NASA scientists have captured a remarkable glimpse of a primordial compact galaxy that came into existence at a time when the Universe was exceptionally young, using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Scientists at NASA spotted the ancient galaxy while analyzing a Hubble image of a massive cluster of galaxies. Located at the mind-boggling distance of 4 billion light-years away, it’s visible on account of an effect known as gravitational lensing. The intense gravity of the galaxy cluster is acting as a kind of magnifying glass—a rather fortuitous effect that makes the distant galaxy appear about 20 times brighter than normal.
Astronomers have detected other galaxies that are record-breakers for distance, but this new galaxy represents a class of ancient galaxies that have, until now, remained undetected. As study lead author Leopoldo Infante explained, “Thanks to this detection, the team has been able to study for the first time the properties of extremely faint objects formed not long after the big bang.”
At the time, MACS0416.1-2403 was about the size of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy that neighbors the Milky Way. Astronomers believe that this object eventually evolved into a full-fledged galaxy not unlike our own.
As an aside, astronomers have nicknamed this object Tayna, which means “first born” in Aimara, which is a language spoken in the Andes and Altiplano regions of South America.
Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him at @dvorsky. Top image by NASA, ESA, L. Infante (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)