The first galaxies
Astronomy news (November 28, 2013) – The Hubble Space Telescope, along with the light magnifying ability of the effect called gravitational lensing, has provided the first views of the most distant galaxy seen during the human journey to the beginning of space and time. The astronomers of the Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble (CLASH) recently discovered three gravity-lensed images of a galaxy that existed over 13.7 billions years ago taken using Hubble’s new panchromatic imaging capabilities. Designated MACS 0647-JD, this ancient star city is currently the most distant galaxy located to date using the Hubble Space Telescope and gravitational lensing.
The CLASH program
The astronomers of CLASH used the Hubble Space Telescope to look at 25 distant galaxy clusters during the period from November 2010 to July 2013. They were looking for light which had been magnified due to the effect known as gravitational lensing as predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. They wanted to detect additional Type Ia supernovae, map the distribution of dark matter in galaxy clusters, detect the most distant galaxies ever and study the internal structure and evolution of the galaxies in and behind these clusters.
The three gravity-lensed images taken by Hubble are of a small galaxy, now designated MACS 0647-JD, which could have been one of the first galaxies to exist in the universe. Astronomers’ analysis of the images suggests this small galaxy was less than 600 light-years across, which may indicate it was in the first stages of galaxy formation. In fact, this smaller galaxy may have been just one building block in the construction of a larger galaxy, and during the past 13.7 billions years could have been part of dozens, hundreds and even thousands of merging events with other galaxies.
Astronomers look at other possibilities
The astronomers of the Cluster Lensing and Supernova Survey with Hubble recently used the ability of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope to help rule out other possible identities of the three images they found. Next, astronomers will use the Spitzer Space Telescope, and other telescopes, to confirm the existence of the galaxy and try to get a better estimate of its age.
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