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Space Science

Astronomer Discovers the Most Distant Stars Ever Observed From Earth 291

Posted by ScuttleMonkey
from the eagle-eye dept.
Cryolithic writes to tell us The Vancouver Sun is reporting that a University of B.C. astronomer recently used NASA's Hubble telescope to see a cluster of stars one billion light-years from Earth, the farthest stars ever observed from Earth. From the article: "That's interesting, he explains, because given that light travels at a finite speed -- 300,000 km a second -- the light emitted from the star cluster he and Kalirai saw was emitted one billion years ago. That means the cluster as it appeared to them two months ago was the way it looked one billion years ago. In other words, they were looking one billion years back in time."
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Astronomer Discovers the Most Distant Stars Ever Observed From Earth

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:49PM (#17545726)
    "In other words, they were looking one billion years back in time."

    So, when I look at the sun, I am actually looking back in time 8 minutes?

    Deep.
    • by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:52PM (#17545774) Homepage
      So, when I look at the sun, I am actually looking back in time 8 minutes?

      Yes, and apparently, 8 minutes ago hurts like a motherfucker.
    • by Gospodin (547743) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:54PM (#17545814)

      When you read Slashdot, you are looking back in time approx. 1.7e-9 seconds*, assuming you sit about 50cm from your screen.

      * May be more if you're reading a dupe.

    • by kale77in (703316) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:46PM (#17546886) Homepage
      From the article:

      "Astronomers further said that they had decoded part of a computer signal from the star systems in question, possibly a signal 1,000,000,000 years old! It said, 'Please wait, Java loading.'"
    • by Goaway (82658)
      Yeah, no, maybe. Depending on how fast you're moving. And stuff. Relativity is tricky. Even something as simple as this causes your everyday intuition to fail.
  • In galaxy far, far away...
    • by ArcherB (796902) *
      More accurate to say:
      A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

      Close though.
      • by creimer (824291)
        I had a catastrophic brain fart trying to get my mind wrapped around the idea of a billion light years. Still trying to recover from the idea that Andromeda is a million light years wide [cnn.com]. When you thought the cosmos is a small place, it's getting larger.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by doti (966971)

          I had a catastrophic brain fart trying to get my mind wrapped around the idea of a billion light years.
          Douglas Adams prediced that:

          Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts to space.
  • Considering this is /., the article quote seems a bit redundant -Cheers,
  • by User 956 (568564) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:50PM (#17545738) Homepage
    That's interesting, he explains, because given that light travels at a finite speed -- 300,000 km a second

    ...in a vacuum. When not in a vacuum, light can travel at a fraction of the speed of light.
    • gosh, to bad there's no vacuum out there, especially in space...
    • by symbolset (646467)
      So... what is the speed of light in, say, lead? and...

      who's got a billion light years long spool of fiber optic cable anyway?

      • speed of light in Pb (Score:2, Interesting)

        by cohomology (111648)
        The index of refraction of lead is 2.6, so the
        speed of light in lead is c / 2.6 = 1.1E8 m/sec.
        Of course, light is absorbed pretty strongly by lead.

        The index of refraction is still an important
        quantity - it determines how much light is reflected
        from the surface, for example.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by heinousjay (683506)
      I always assumed that whatever speed light traveled at was the speed of light.
    • by kfg (145172) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:42PM (#17546800)
      ...in a vacuum. When not in a vacuum, light can travel at a fraction of the speed of light.

      Well no, not exactly. When not in a vacuum it takes rest stops which reduce its average speed, but when not taking rest stops it travels at the designated finite speed; because that's the only speed at which light can travel. There was this Maxwell guy who 'splained it.

      You know about the pony express? Well, they had posts along the way to change horses. Let's say, for the sake of simplicity, that these posts were 15 miles apart and that the horses traveled at a finite speed of 15 miles per hour. When the horse is moving it is always going 15 miles per hour, but the average speed of the horses over a full day is 13 miles per hour because of the time it takes for the rider to change them on an hourly basis.

      Light is like the Pony Express, only without the horses, which wouldn't be like the Pony Express at all, would it? That would just be some guy taking a walk.

      Nevermind.

      KFG
    • by gstoddart (321705)
      ...in a vacuum. When not in a vacuum, light can travel at a fraction of the speed of light.

      They're in luck. This light travelled through space ... and therefore, a vacuum!!

      Oh those wacky astronomers for actually using c correctly. :-P

      Cheers
      • by jgoemat (565882)
        Even space isn't a perfect vacuum. There are a few hydrogen atoms per 10 cm^3 even in deep intergalactic space.
  • I RTFA, but it didn't discuss why 1 billion ly was such a big deal. Don't we look at stars (albeit clustered into galaxies) that are much farther away than that all the time? Is this a record for looking at individual stars?

    • "I RTFA, but it didn't discuss why 1 billion ly was such a big deal. "

      Didnt seem like a big deal to me either. Ok, you can see stuff that is older, but until you quantify what you are seeing, it's not hard news. Now if they find different composition of stars, or different than expected output, then that is news.
    • by MindStalker (22827) <mindstalker@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:02PM (#17546002) Journal
      Yea the visible universe is some 46 billions light years. They are referring to detecting individual starts a billion light years away whereby normally you would only see a galaxy with non identifiable individuals stars at such a distance.
      • by maird (699535)
        That is something I just don't understand. In simple terms, I believe the universe grew from a point source. If we take your comment at face value (I have no knowledge that permits me not to) then, also in simple terms, 46 billion light years worth of distance are visible (presumably 23 in any direction). If we are looking "back in time" to the time of emission when observing light from a remote source then, if nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, how can the age of the universe be estimated a
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by maird (699535)
          I never knew what question to ask before reading this branch of the discussion. Whether or not it is accurate is beyond me but, I think I can feel good about this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expansion_of_the_univ erse [wikipedia.org]
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by coastwalker (307620)
            I'm just making a guess here but it goes something like

            we get the age and size from the frequency of the microwave background radiation.

            The background is measured at 3.5 kelvin (degrees above absolute zero) which relates to the microwave frequency by wiens law (sorry very rusty on the details, frequency of the light given off by an object at a certain temperature is defined by the laws of thermodynamics, the hotter it is the shorter the wavelength).

            when the big bang occurred particle physics can give a valu
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by shawnce (146129)
          From Observable universe [wikipedia.org]:

          For example, the cosmic microwave background radiation that we see right now was emitted about 13.7 billion years ago by matter that has, in the intervening time, condensed into galaxies. Those galaxies are now about 46 billion light-years from us, but at the time the light was emitted, that matter was only about 40 million light-years away from the matter that would eventually become the Earth. See comoving coordinates.

        • by Bucko (15043)
          Maird,
          It's not quite right to think that the universe "grew from a point source." There was nothing (no physical matter or information) that went from point A to point B faster than light. Think of it like the surface of a pond freezing out. It can do so everywhere at once, with out something moving from one side of the pond to the other. Remember that Einstein's famous limit on the speed at which something can travel applies only to stuff that has mass (=energy) or carries information. The line you d
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by somepunk (720296)
      Yeah, the summary is bogus (surprise, surprise). The big news is that this is the furthest cluster of stars yet observed, a confusion not encountered in TFA.
  • Wait... (Score:4, Funny)

    by Draconix (653959) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:52PM (#17545768)
    Ric Romero is submitting articles to Slashdot now?
  • by Ubergrendle (531719) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:56PM (#17545862) Journal
    Yet more evidenence that mankind cannot truly comprehend the vastness of space. Travelling 1 billion years at the fastest possible speed known to science doesn't even get us to the edge of the universe.

    I remember a highschool experience. A teacher had a record, put it on the table. "Ok, see the hole in the middle? That's the sun. Track 1 is approximately where the earth is located. The outer edge might be pluto's orbit. Heliopause? That's probably in the teacher's parking lot. Ok, so the next closest galaxy is Alpha Centauri, so that is approximately...well, Hamilton." (We were in Toronto, Hamilton is 100km+ away).
    • by Dunbal (464142) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:02PM (#17546004)
      Travelling 1 billion years at the fastest possible speed known to science doesn't even get us to the edge of the universe.

            Ahh, but the beauty of it is that if you _DID_ travel at or near the speed of light, one billion years would not seem like such a long time at all - certainly doable within a lifetime! So if you asked those photons how old they thought they were, you'd be surprised at the answer... so the photons aren't really that old at all! Confused yet?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by vindimy (941049)
        Whoever didn't get this, give yourself a hand and read Wiki's Time Dilation [wikipedia.org] topic. Save yourself some embarrassment from typing nonsense questions and arguing.
      • That's a rather humancentric way of looking at it. Do photons really "age"?
        • by wanerious (712877)
          Nope. If you travel at the speed of light, then nothing ever happens.
          • But photons only travel at c when travelling in a vacuum. Do they "experience" time when they travel through air at a speed less than c? Does this question even make sense? Photons don't have a persistent state that can change over time, so there's no way to tell how old one is.
            • by wanerious (712877)
              Well, I was being a little flippant. In a medium, photons travel at c between interactions with the electrons in the medium, so the average speed of photons through a medium is weighted down by these "collisions". Since they're bosons and indistinguishable, there's really no way to tell one that has been absorbed and emitted from one that has had no interactions.
      • by Kjella (173770)
        Ahh, but the beauty of it is that if you _DID_ travel at or near the speed of light, one billion years would not seem like such a long time at all - certainly doable within a lifetime! So if you asked those photons how old they thought they were, you'd be surprised at the answer... so the photons aren't really that old at all! Confused yet?

        Not until you got back... Most people feel lost after a few decades, after a few billion years I bet your first two questions would be "Where's earth?" and "Where's
      • The best page I ever saw describing what near c travel would be like is The Relativistic Rocket [ucr.edu]. It details what would happen if one were to travel for extended periods of time in a ship with constant acceleration. (Preferrably at 1g).

        It provides equations giving the velocity and distance travelled by the ship in terms of time as viewed from where the rocket was launched and within the rocket itself. That and the explanations are definitely worth a read.

    • by Rob T Firefly (844560) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:10PM (#17546156) Homepage Journal
      You kids and your fancy record albums! In my day, it was explained to me that the Sun was the hole in the middle of a gramophone cylinder, and the Earth was the trunk in my room at the orphanage in which I kept my knickerbockers, and the farthest planet Neptune would probably be down by the paper mills where all us kids would look for work. Now get off my lawn!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by smoker2 (750216)
      A teacher had a record, put it on the table. "Ok, see the hole in the middle? That's the sun. Track 1 is approximately where the earth is located. The outer edge might be pluto's orbit.
      So your teacher used to play his records backwards ? Any cryptic messages come through ?
      (hint - track one starts at the outside edge)
    • I remember a highschool experience. A teacher had a record, put it on the table. "Ok, see the hole in the middle? That's the sun. Track 1 is approximately where the earth is located. The outer edge might be pluto's orbit. Heliopause? That's probably in the teacher's parking lot. Ok, so the next closest galaxy is Alpha Centauri, so that is approximately...well, Hamilton." (We were in Toronto, Hamilton is 100km+ away).

      Hmm, your teacher scalig is a bit off, eh? Hole in record is about 1/4". If that represen

  • by chill (34294) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:57PM (#17545876) Journal
    I don't get the whole "back in time" thing. Saying it 3 different ways in a 3 sentence blurb isn't quite enough. Is this, like, before the Great Flood? :-)

    • by gstoddart (321705)

      I don't get the whole "back in time" thing. Saying it 3 different ways in a 3 sentence blurb isn't quite enough. Is this, like, before the Great Flood? :-)

      Assuming you're not being flippant ..... (in which case I'm being pointlessly pedantic)

      Since the light took 1 billion years to reach us, it's, well, "old light" that occured in the past. We're not seeing those objects as they exist today, we're seeing them as they existed 1 billion years ago. Hence, we're looking into the past. We have no idea what the

  • Age (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dr. Cody (554864) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @03:59PM (#17545928)
    In other words, these pictures are one billion years, two months old.
  • I know, the article probably only refers to visible light, but note that we've detected things as far away as 12 billion light years: http://hypertextbook.com/facts/1998/JiYoungLee.sht ml [hypertextbook.com] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quasars [wikipedia.org]
    • by Abcd1234 (188840)
      No, they mean the largest individual star cluster. We've imaged galaxies and quasars *much* farther out, but individual clusters of stars? That's much more difficult.
  • Astronomer 1: How far away is it?
    Astronomer 2: In light years? It's OVER 9000!!!!!
  • by searchr (564109) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [rhcraes]> on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:16PM (#17546272)
    Oh.my.god. Using those figures, according to my calculations, it takes the light from the sun about eight minutes to reach Earth. That means, we aren't seeing the Sun NOW, we're seeing the sun eight minutes in the PAST. So everything we're seeing, everything with the Sun's light on it, is actually touching the past! I'm.. I'm touching the PAST. Looking through TIME.

    these are really good brownies.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The whole notion of factoring time out of spacetime for special treatement is silly. Other than the fact the metric is a bit odd, thinking in terms of a unified spacetime is much easier. The idea of "sometime else" is just as good as "somwhere else" -- it's the whole fact that the English language is stupidly constructed and people say "some other time" that re-inforces the separation. All you really know as an observer is "local and now" -- i.e. your spacetime point. Claiming the images are very old is
  • how many football fields is that?
    • About 1.03461597 × 10^23 football fields, assuming a 100 yard field.
      Also equal to 4.70279985 × 10^22 furlongs.
      Also equal to 6.32396717 × 10^13 Astronomical Units.
      Also equal to 9.31154371 × 10^25 hands.

      Any other peculiar units of measure you'd like translations into? Google calculator is really good at this stuff.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by twifosp (532320)
      A football field is 300 yards.

      There are 1093.6 yards in a kilometer.

      There are 3.654 football fields in a kilometer.
      A light year is ~ 9,460,730,472,580.80 kilometers.
      There are 2,595,267,579,293.56 football fields in a light year.
      There are 2.59527E+21 or 2,595,267,579,293,560,000,000 football fields in a billion lightyears.

      Other imperial measurments you might find usefull:
      Dime widths to the lightyear: 38,448,408.68
      Buicks to the lightyear: 48,060,510,849.73
      Hamsters to the lightyear: 961,2

      • A football field is 300 yards.

        I had no idea soccer fields were so large. American Rules Football only uses a 100 yard field.

    • How many VW bugs could you line up? We all know the only two constant forms of measurement in the USA are VW Bugs (classic) and football fields (American). Oh, and Rhode Island - when you are measuring asteroids or ice shelfs...
  • In other words, they have to say the same thing in 20 different ways to hide the fact that there is no story here.
  • by minuteman (81528) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:32PM (#17546594) Homepage
    As an astronomy graduate student, I would like to offer a correction or an explanation of this statement:

    From the article:
    "That's because the older a star gets, the redder it gets, he says. Younger stars are bluer."

    Kinda true, but the point is something else. A young *cluster* of stars will look blue because brightest stars in a young cluster are blue, massive stars. These blue bright stars burn their fuel (Hydrogen) very fast and have short lives (~100 Million years). When blue bright stars go away, more numerous, but much fainter, red stars start to dominate the color of the cluster. Therefore, as the *cluster* gets older, it gets redder.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by kharchenko (303729)
      Are you sure he isn't just referring to the redshift [wikipedia.org] ? This would have nothing to do with the types of starts observed.
  • given that light travels at a finite speed -- 300,000 km a second -- the light emitted from the star cluster he and Kalirai saw was emitted one billion years ago. That means the cluster as it appeared to them two months ago was the way it looked one billion years ago. In other words, they were looking one billion years back in time.

    Gee, figured this one out huh?

    • by Achoi77 (669484)

      I have a friend who just turned 30. Then I met his girlfriend. She just entered college, and she was 19.

      I would tease them saying stupid things like, "You know Jim, did you ever stop to think that when you got your driver's license at 17, you would be driving up to the local middle school, pointing at a random 6 year old who just started kindergarten and be saying to yourself, 'I'm gonna bang that chic someday'? Or when you just graduated college at 22, you would be checking out the jr high student who wil

  • by Khomar (529552) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @04:53PM (#17546976) Journal

    This article has taken great and repetitive pains to explain something that may in fact not be true. A previous ./ story [slashdot.org] talked about indications that the speed of light may in fact be slowing down. Depending on the rate of change, they could be witnessing events significantly closer to the current time -- especially when we are talking billions of years.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      A previous ./ story talked about indications that the speed of light may in fact be slowing down.

      It's a good thing they're going to increase the speed of light in 2208.

  • Ha .. ha (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    a University of B.C. astronomer recently used NASA's Hubble telescope to see a cluster of stars one billion light-years from Earth, the farthest stars ever observed from Earth.

    How appropriate that is....

  • I think this was a great technical achievement, but was ruined for me by the incompetance of the article. TFA kinda lost me with the opening paragraph:

    A University of B.C. astronomer has discovered the farthest cluster of stars ever seen by a human eye -- a find he hopes will reveal secrets about the formation of the universe.

    WTF? He used the Hubble! Did he grab a shuttle up to the Hubble, rip the sesnor pallet out and stick his head down the end of the OTA?

    Also, the whole harping on about the light bein

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday January 10, 2007 @05:58PM (#17548100) Journal
    The whole universe was just created 6000 years ago. That star 1 billion light years away is also just 6000 years old. It was created along with the stream of photons stretching all the way from here to there so that it appears to shine steadily. BTW all the dino fossils? they too was created 6000 years ago along with the Earth's crust. It will all be explained very clearly in my forthcoming book The Theory of Intelligent Shining. For advance copy, please send me 79.99$.

Physician: One upon whom we set our hopes when ill and our dogs when well. -- Ambrose Bierce

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