The University of Texas at Austin
  • Astronomers Discover Farthest Known Galaxy

    By Jordan Schraeder, Alcalde
    Published: Oct. 23, 2013

    artist's rendering of most faraway galaxy ever found, discovered by UT Austin astronomer Steven Finkelstein

    An artist’s rendition of the newly discovered most distant galaxy z8_GND_5296. (The galaxy looks red in the actual Hubble Space Telescope image because the collective blue light from stars get shifted toward redder colors due to the expansion of the universe and its large distance from Earth.) [Credit: V. Tilvi, S.L. Finkelstein, C. Papovich, and the Hubble Heritage Team]

    As the McDonald Observatory gears up to celebrate its 75th year as an internationally renowned scientific hub, astronomers at UT have yet another landmark discovery to be proud of: spotting and measuring the most distant galaxy ever found.

    The galaxy, dubbed z8_GND_5296, was pinpointed after a research team led by UT assistant professor Steven Finkelstein selected it — and 43 others — for further review out of the more than 100,000 galaxies discovered by the Hubble CANDELS survey. Because of the speed at which light travels, the astronomers are able to see the galaxy just as it was 700 million years after the Big Bang — literally looking into the Universe’s past.

    Assistant professor of astronomy Steven Finkelstein

    Steven Finkelstein

    “We like to study how we came to be: humans, civilizations, society, galaxies,” Finkelstein says. “When you look back at distant galaxies, things look very different. How did they go from little bumps to big, beautiful spirals? By looking at galaxies far away, we can kind of play a movie of how the Universe was formed.”

    With the help of the Keck I telescope in Hawaii, Finkelstein and his team were able to definitively confirm that Galaxy z8_GND_5296 is the farthest and earliest ever discovered using spectroscopy, or measuring how much a galaxy’s light wavelengths have shifted toward the red end of the spectrum as they make their way toward Earth — a phenomenon called redshift.

    Galaxy z8_GND_5296 has the highest redshift every confirmed, indicating that it originated only 700 million years after the Big Bang (or 5 percent of the Universe’s current age of 13.8 billion years). The more distant galaxies we study, Finkelstein says, the closer scientists get to being able to study the Universe’s mysterious beginnings.

    “It’s hard to make broad conclusions based on one galaxy, but this particular object is surprising,” he says. Case in point: the galaxy is forming stars extremely rapidly, at a rate of 150 times that of our Milky Way. Because the galaxy that previously held the distance record had a similarly high rate, researchers now know there are more regions of extreme star formation than previously thought.

    Despite this incredible finding, however, Finkelstein was still perplexed. [Visit Alcalde to read more.]

    For more detailed information about Finkelstein’s findings, check out McDonald Observatory’s website.

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    • Quote 2
      James Stryker said on Nov. 8, 2013 at 9:27 a.m.
      If we are seeing it 13 billion years ago, wouldn't it be much further from earth in today's time, if the furthest galaxy is on the other side of the big bang? Wouln't that mean the known universe could be calculated to be much bigger because it is still expanding and what we see now is the size it was 13 billion years ago, not today's size?
    • Quote 2
      James Stryker said on Nov. 8, 2013 at 9:21 a.m.
      Why do all scientists believe there was the big bang that was the start of the universe? What happened prior to the big bang? Isn't time infinite, and there was never a beginning of time? Why do humans try to categorize everything by stating there was a beginning? How do we know there haven't been contractions/expansions of the universe thousands, millions of times? What if another universe collided with what we know to cause the big bang? It just seems we try to have a very simplistic answer to a very complicated universe?
    • Quote 2
      Bryan said on Nov. 7, 2013 at 6:17 p.m.
      So, that galaxy is approx 30 billion light years away. 1 light year = 6 trillion miles 30,000,000,000 X 6,000,000,000,000 miles http://www.science.tamu.edu/articles/1129
    • Quote 2
      Writing Star said on Nov. 2, 2013 at 11:30 p.m.
      What a beautiful artists depiction of this amazing new discovery. Of course we can never know what such a galaxy really looks like but it is wonderful how such speculative pieces engage the imagination.
    • Quote 2
      Jacek Prus said on Oct. 29, 2013 at 2:33 p.m.
      I wonder if this galaxy exists now, I'm sure all the stars they are seeing in this photo are burned up by now. Could be a neighboring galaxy now with a whole new generation of stars!
    • Quote 2
      Glenn Suchan said on Oct. 29, 2013 at 8:27 a.m.
      House Cleaning: In answer to your question, how far the galaxy is; Based on the the estimation that the universe is 13.8 billion years of age, and one light year is approximately 6 trillion miles, I estimate that galaxy is 78 sextillion, 600 quintillion miles away. The number would look like this: 78,600,000,000,000,000,000,000. Being that I am NOT a math wizard, your mileage may vary. LOL
    • Quote 2
      mary said on Oct. 28, 2013 at 11:50 a.m.
      I really like to see my mind boggling with this space thing.
    • Quote 2
      mary said on Oct. 28, 2013 at 11:48 a.m.
      What I wrote on Oct26 is wrong. it seems that the age of universe is not depending on how far the space had expanded. Two observers must use the same beam of light from this big bang. When the light reach us now, we say the distance is 13.8 billion light years away and universe has 13.8 billion years of age. The other observer is searching this same light right now in another galaxy , they would not see it for another 3 billion years if it is located in further away expanded regions than the earth, they need to wait another 3 billion years to see this same light traveling from earth to their place. now, at this present time, the age should be 13.8 billion years, no matter where each galaxy is located in universe.
    • Quote 2
      house cleaning said on Oct. 28, 2013 at 12:16 a.m.
      I agree with sph you did not tell us how far the galaxy is
    • Quote 2
      mary said on Oct. 26, 2013 at 1:03 p.m.
      Those articles are misleading. The 13.8 billion years age of universe/big bang is a number referenced by our earth time. We can not know its true age without knowing how far the universe had expanded. Imagine today there are galaxies located in regions where the space expanded even more beyond any known region. Time did not end in our solar system, where the space can be further moved/expanded away from this big bang. When those intelligent lives today are looking into their telescope, they first find us earth 3 billion years away, then they see this big bang 16.8 billion years away, now their universe age would be 16.8 billion years from their further expanded space, we will never know how far away the space had expanded so we will never know the true age of the universe. All space and time are referenced against earth which we assume is the end of time, today.
    • Quote 2
      Rebecca Johnson said on Oct. 24, 2013 at 1:59 p.m.
      Hi sph! The galaxy is 13.1 billion light-years away. So it took the light from this galaxy 13.1 billion years to reach our telescopes. We are seeing the galaxy as it looked then -- 13.1 billion years ago -- or to put it another way, 700 million years after the Big Bang. For reference, one light-year is about 6 trillion miles (10 trillion km).
    • Quote 2
      sph said on Oct. 24, 2013 at 9:36 a.m.
      Very interesting, but, considering the title of this article, you didn't tell us how far away the galaxy is. (Forgive me--I like details.)
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