With the combined power of NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble Space Telescopes as well as a cosmic magnification effect, a team of astronomers led by Wei Zheng of The Johns Hopkins University has spotted what could be the most distant galaxy ever seen. Light of the young galaxy captured by the orbiting observatories shone forth when the 13.7-billion-year-old universe was just 500 million years old. The far-off galaxy existed within an important era when the universe began to transit from the so-called “Dark Ages.” During this period, the universe went from a dark, starless expanse to a recognizable cosmos full of galaxies. The discovery of the faint, small galaxy accordingly opens up a window into the deepest, remotest epochs of cosmic history.
“This galaxy is the most distant object we have ever observed with high confidence,” said Zheng, a principal research scientist in The Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy at Johns Hopkins’ Krieger School of Arts and Sciences and lead author of a new paper appearing in Nature tomorrow. “Future work involving this galaxy – as well as others like it that we hope to find – will allow us to study the universe’s earliest objects and how the Dark Ages ended.”