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NASA Space Science

NASA Discovers Most Distant Galaxy In Known Universe 105

Posted by timothy
from the home-of-many-rebel-bases dept.
An anonymous reader writes with this snippet from cbc.ca: "'NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes (not to be outdone by the Kepler Space Telescope) have discovered the most distant galaxy identified so far in the universe... the galaxy is 13.3 billion light years away and only a tiny fraction of the size of the Milky Way. Due to the time it takes light to travel through space, the images seen from Earth now show what the galaxy looked like when the universe was just 420 million years old, according to a press statement released from NASA. The newly discovered galaxy (is) named MACS0647-JD."
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NASA Discovers Most Distant Galaxy In Known Universe

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  • I don't get it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by symes (835608) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @06:34AM (#42017983) Journal

    Apologies for the ignorance - So I understand that the further an object is the longer it takes for light to reach us. So what we observe is effectively light that has been traveling for a long time and we are looking back in time. But surely the Universe is expanding and is we go back in time then at some point we were in fairly close proximity to this galaxy. Light back then would have taken only a few moments to reach us. Moving forward from this point, for us to be able to see the past now surely we must have moved away from this galaxy at a relative speed that is considerable. What I don't get is how fast we need to be hurtling away from this galaxy for us to see the relative past now. As surely any speed below the speed of light would only slow time, rather than reverse it as implied here. Can anyone explain?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Kergan (780543)

      Consider two objects moving vertically from one another (along the x axis, and along the y axis), or in the same direction at different speed, or in opposite directions. At some point, light from the first will need a year to reach the other; what the other will then see is what the first looked like a year before.

      • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Interesting)

        by wvmarle (1070040) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @07:06AM (#42018073)

        I think the point of OP is different: the light from this galaxy took 13.3 bln years to reach us; so this implies the light has been travelling for that distance (13.3 bln light-years) before it reached us. Otherwise it should have reached us earlier.

        However 420 mln light years after the Big Bang, was the universe already that big? If the universe was smaller (say 1 bln light-years across) the light of that star system should have reached us long time ago.

        And, on the same note, there must be a lot of our universe that we can not see, simply because it is now so far away from use that the light from those places can not have reached us yet.

        Or are OP and me missing something? If so, what?

        • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 18, 2012 @07:20AM (#42018103)

          This is explained thoroughly on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observable_universe

        • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

          by Kergan (780543) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @08:39AM (#42018323)

          I think the point of OP is different: the light from this galaxy took 13.3 bln years to reach us; so this implies the light has been travelling for that distance (13.3 bln light-years) before it reached us. Otherwise it should have reached us earlier. (...)

          Or are OP and me missing something? If so, what?

          I suspect you're misunderstanding space inflation. The big bang wasn't so much an explosion in space than it was an explosion of space. Picture a balloon with dots on it. Roughly speaking, our 3d space would correspond to the balloon's surface. (The balloon's volume corresponds to nothing physical.) There isn't such a thing as a center of the balloon's surface any more than there is a center of the universe, and the big bang corresponds to a huge initial blowing into the balloon. Crunchy details if needed [ucr.edu].

          • Re:I don't get it (Score:4, Interesting)

            by wvmarle (1070040) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @08:58AM (#42018367)

            That part I get; I also checked the wikipedia link provided by a helpful AC.

            The issue I don't understand: this galaxy must have been some 13.3 bln light years away from us, as the light took that long to reach us. Anything closer we'd see "nearer in time". This means the galaxy must have been at least that big already at that time. Sounds pretty big to me, considering it has been expanding since and expansion is accelerating.

            • by Kergan (780543)

              The issue I don't understand: this galaxy must have been some 13.3 bln light years away from us, as the light took that long to reach us. Anything closer we'd see "nearer in time". This means the galaxy must have been at least that big already at that time.

              Or more simply, space time expanded throughout the entire process. Take two points A and B on the aforementioned balloon. Blow the balloon fast enough (space time expands), and they will see each other as they were shortly after the big bang; or never, for that matter, if you blow it even faster.

            • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

              by History's Coming To (1059484) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @09:20AM (#42018431) Journal
              It's a perfectly good question, and a tricky one to fully explain. The first thing to look at is how you measure distances - because we're talking about light here we're firmly in the realm of relativity, so there's no such thing as "space" and "time", you have to bundle them together in spacetime. And talking of x-light-years or y-million-years doesn't actually make much sense, you have to measure both at once, so instead of distances or times things are measured in "spacetime intervals" which account for all four dimensions.

              Now this is the tricky bit - for any "light-like" path (more technically called a "null geodesic") the spacetime interval is zero. So the light that we're receiving from the galaxy here and now has a spactime interval of zero. The light that this galaxy emits all travels the same spacetime interval of zero - some of those photons would have been aimed at (as you suggest) "our galaxy" when it was "closer" - although in fact "our galaxy" was just a wisp of hydrogen at the time. Other photons (the ones we see today) were essentially aimed at a point that was also 13Bn years IN THE FUTURE, and those are the ones we see hitting us today.

              Long story short, you don't just aim light at a point in space, you also aim it at some point in the future, and the further away in space it's aimed then the further into the future it's aimed. In a million years we'll still be able to see this galaxy (assuming it doesn't slip over the cosmic horizon), and the photons we'll detect then are currently still in transit, aimed at when/wherever we will be then, just as the photons we detect today were still in transit last week, last year and 13Bn years ago.
              • Errrr - would you believe that you actually confused my limited understanding of spacetime?

                I don't think that light is being aimed into the future. Rather, it's at least as accurate to say, "light was aimed at the place that we would be in the future - which is now."

                Light that we are recieving today was not "aimed at us", but it was aimed at the point in space that we now occupy.

                Or, we could also say that we travel a path that was illuminated by that galaxy a billion years ago, with the light arriving now.

                • on a much smaller scale, but I think the model still works: skeet. When you're shooting, you aim ahead of the skeet - not where it is, but where it will be. The shot travels at a constant speed, and meets the skeet at a predetermined point in space. If you know how fast your skeet is moving, the distance to your aiming point, you know exactly when to pull the trigger and guarantee that every shot will shatter the ceramic.

                  • That pretty much works, but it should be noted that not only is the target moving, but the target's launch platform is moving, the shooter is moving, and the shot is moving. All of that movement in spacetime gets pretty complicated.

                    Maybe we can use jet fighter pilots and their cannon as examples? ;)

    • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Informative)

      by gshegosh (1587463) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @07:28AM (#42018121)
      The speed limit of c only applies to matter inside of the spacetime. The spacetime itself can expand faster than light and in fact there might be galaxies that we'll never be able to reach or see because they move away from us faster than light. Moreover, the idea of inflation stage of universe growth seems to explain well some problems with standard "big bang" theory and is widely accepted. Inflation means that there was a shot period in universe history when it expanded very quickly, faster than light speed in fact.
      • by etash (1907284)
        pardon the ignorance but..if spacetime can expand faster than light then the matter ( galaxies, stars etc. ) which are contained into that part of spacetime, is also moving faster than light? wouldn't that contradict the fact that matter ( with mass ) can't reach the speed of light ?
        • It's easier to think of matter as not being contained but rather sitting on top of the fabric of spacetime. The distance between the two galaxies/stars will accelerate faster than light while the matter itself comfortable sits still relative to spacetime. At least that's how I visualise it, correct me if I'm wrong!
          • by etash (1907284)
            hm yes but won't galaxy A see galaxy B moving away from it faster than the speed of light ? ( the relative movement as observed from a second galaxy. bonus question: is the universe a sphere ? I don't understand why the universe can't have a center, wouldn't that be the "point" where big bang happened ?
            • by arisvega (1414195)

              hm yes but won't galaxy A see galaxy B moving away from it faster than the speed of light ?

              No- something that moves faster than the speed of light, cannot be seen.

              All the actual math can be messy, and most of the misunderstanding, I believe, stems from the fact that the speed of light is an anomaly (from a math point of view) but consider this: energy needs to be conserved. A wave is more 'packed' with energy if it is of a higher frequency from a wave that has the same amplitude, and a lower frequency. This is because it has more 'ups and downs' for the same amount of time, so it transfers more e

              • by etash (1907284)
                well i have done maths earlier in my life and even read "a brief history of time" still in high school ( with some difficulties in the late chapters ). But I've always had more questions and not all my questions seem to be answered ( i know they are a result of lack of knowledge ). Thanks for your thorough answer but what it did was to incentivize me to ask you even more questions!

                I understand the concept of the universe as a thin egg shell ( the balloon example ), with all the matter ( galaxies ) being
        • by gshegosh (1587463)
          That's something I don't fully understand and probably I won't without appropriate amount of math :-) But what popular science writers say about it is that Einstein's limit applies to movement relative to space. If you imagine your self glued to a point on a baloon and another galaxy glued to another point, when the baloon expands neither you nor the galaxy move relative to the baloon. But you move away from each other. You cannot move faster than light relative to the baloon. But the baloon can expand so f
    • by kwikrick (755625)

      how fast we need to be hurtling away from this galaxy for us to see the relative past now

      Earth is only 4.5 billion years old, so the question is a bit silly. But the universe 13.3 billion years ago (420 million years old) was already quite big, or it could not have been forming galaxies. (I don't have numbers, but the exponential inflationary period was definitely much earlier. After that growth glowed down for a couple of billion years, and now it's speeding up again because of dark matter ).

      More about measuring distance on space-time here:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metric_expansion_of_space [wikipedia.org]

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Questions is bang on. Basically how the heck did we arrive at this point in space before the light did. Do we really believe that we travelled faster than light? Seems very much at the THEORY stage to me!

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by nthcolumnist (734273)
          Again with this? There is no theory stage. 'Theory' is not a precursor to absolute knowledge. If you think gravity is just a theory I invite you to test it via the nearest window.
          • Did you forget that gravitation is one of the most broken disjointed pieced of the standard model? The theory of gravity is definitely a theory. Just because more mass = more gravity doesn't mean more mass is the cause. There could easily be exceptions if the causological mechanism of action is something we can't see...that is affected maybe mostly by mass, but not necessarily entirely. I say this mainly because we dont have a "why." It's just a basic potential problem, but I assure you there are many.
      • After that growth glowed down for a couple of billion years, and now it's speeding up again because of dark matter ).

        I think you meant dark energy?

      • by pantaril (1624521)

        Earth is only 4.5 billion years old, so the question is a bit silly. But the universe 13.3 billion years ago (420 million years old) was already quite big, or it could not have been forming galaxies. (I don't have numbers, but the exponential inflationary period was definitely much earlier. After that growth glowed down for a couple of billion years, and now it's speeding up again because of dark matter ).

        Just to correct your post: universe is now expanding because of dark energy, not matter. Without dark energy, dark matter would just shrink together because of gravity.

        Also, the inflantionary period lasted fractions of second after big bang. More specificaly from wiki: "It lasted from 10^-36 seconds after the Big Bang to sometime between 10^33 and 10^32 seconds".

        Pretty strange isn't it?

    • Re:I don't get it (Score:5, Insightful)

      by rgbatduke (1231380) <rgb@@@phy...duke...edu> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @08:56AM (#42018357) Homepage

      Just to actually answer your question, the original inflation of space (supposedly) took only a very, very short time, so even if the two points were "close together" at the instant of the big bang itself, they ended up very far apart (and moving farther apart) at the end of a second or so. The parts of the universe in question did not exceed the speed of light because speed is distance over time in spacetime and it is the latter that was inflating. Think of a very small balloon with a picture of the Universe printed on its surface being suddenly blown up -- when the balloon is small, everything is compact, but when it is inflated it is much further apart. Then make it a balloon with a three dimensional "surface" and no interior...

      There is a lot more to learn about this, much of it in e.g. wikipedia pages as noted in the thread or in astronomy textbooks, and it is actually a lot of fun to learn. One very interesting thing, for example, is to follow the scientific argument from parallax, blackbody radiation, and our knowledge of how radiation intensity drops off with distance, through the discovery of the Hubble constant, out to how we estimate/compute the size and age of the Universe. Another interesting thing is to learn about "the Great Dark" that followed the big bang up until the formation of the earliest stars some 200 million years later, the chain of nucleosynthesis within those starts and the supernovae that ended them, and the gradual accumulation of "metals" (elements heavier than hydrogen and helium) in the ashes of those stars. The entire planet Earth and we ourselves are composed of stardust, the ash of ancient stars that gave rise to the elements that make up our bodies in their dying explosions.

      It's well worth it to take a course in astronomy at some point if this sort of thing interests you, although a lot of it is covered in discovery channel stuff and shows you can probably find on netflix if that's too time or money consuming for you.

      rgb (who occasionally teaches astronomy and hasn't lost his sense of wonder at how it all works out)

      • by arisvega (1414195)

        Think of a very small balloon with a picture of the Universe printed on its surface being suddenly blown up -- when the balloon is small, everything is compact, but when it is inflated it is much further apart.

        This analogy has been around for decades but, respectfully, it is a very bad one and tends to confuse people (and students, who are also people).

        Picture this: doesn't space expansion also expand the distances between nuclei and electrons? How about the 'dimensions' of electrons themselves? Is that expanding as well?

        Another fair quoestion from a student on the 'baloon' example would be that the objects along with the observers on that baloon are also expanding: and, again on that example, will they not still

    • by Gordonjcp (186804)

      Okay, so the universe is expanding, right? So that means that the light from a distant galaxy takes a certain amount of time to reach us - but as time passes it takes longer and longer for the light to reach us. The light that has already left is being stretched out, which is why we get red shift.

      Have you ever seen the things they use to put a 10-second delay onto radio phone-in programs? It's basically a big digital delay line, with a read pointer and a write pointer that can be moved separately. About

    • According to ignorant religious people it only took 24 hours to get here despite the fact that "day" in Genesis is symbolic and massive evidence to suggest otherwise.
    • by symbolset (646467) *
      If you think that's baffling, try this: the photons that travelled this long time to get to us don't experience time at all. For them the instant they arrive is the same instant they left that distant galaxy.
    • by Myopic (18616) *

      The answer is that new universe is constantly coming into existence all along the path of the light. The path is is getting longer and longer as it is traversed. That is what scientists mean when they say the universe is expanding.

    • at the minimum. An expanding universe would be at least this large, not including Guth-inflation which could make it almost infinitely larger.
  • by Hognoxious (631665)

    Mysterious signals, apparently partially random but partly systematic, that emanate from the object are proving a puzzle for scientists.

    However some fragments have been successfully decoded containing "ukem for" "ux on" "eskto" and "et Ru".

  • What about a galaxy that could be seen in the complete opposite direction? Would the distance between the two galaxies be 26.6 billion years and longer than the age of the universe?

    I don't see how we could be even close to the outer edge of the universe. Is the age of the universe relative to us also?

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The radius of the observable universe is 45.7 billion light years ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observable_universe ). So yes, if you take 2 objects in opposite directions they are seemingly receding much faster than the speed of light in relation to each other. This does not violate relativity because it is actually the spacetime fabric that is expanding.

      The 13.3 billion quoted here is actually the distance that light traveled to get here. The universe has been expanding all this time, therefore this gala

    • by meetpi (2776369) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @07:44AM (#42018173)

      It's also worth pointing out that in the context of the universe, there is no edge. By default we tend to think of the universe as being like an explosion in space where the first particles ejected are at the edge of the explosion radius.

      However, when we're discussing the universe, this explosion is actually creating space, so the expansion is not from the core to the edges, it's happening through all of space - everything is moving away from everything else. Think of it like the surface of a balloon that is being blown up. In 2d terms, all points on the surface of the balloon are moving away from each other, but none of them are at the 'edge' of the balloon.

      Someone standing on the surface of a sufficiently large balloon would look around and see everything receding from them - it would be reasonable for them to feel they were at the centre of the surface of the balloon and that therefore somewhere there was an 'edge' - but they'd be wrong.

    • by aneroid (856995) <aneroidNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Sunday November 18, 2012 @08:07AM (#42018219) Homepage Journal

      Would the distance between the two galaxies be 26.6 billion years and longer than the age of the universe?

      Good point: Yes and No.

      Would it happen, yes, already has: If the universe is 93 billion light years in diameter, it is obviously possible to to find a galaxy 26.6 billion light years away but it should not be older than 13.7 billion years.

      Because 13.3 billion light years away vs 13.3 billion years ago are not the same in the "Expanding universe" theory. The summary says "the galaxy is 13.3 billion light years away" - which makes it not as old as that statement implies --- imagine an early universe 1 billion light years across, with 2 galaxies forming near the edge diametrically opposite each other. They could now be 93 billion light years apart from each other but they would still be slightly younger than this one (MACS0647-JD). Similarly, it's possible that this galaxy could have been formed 12 billion years ago and has since moved relatively or "apparently" further away to 13.3 billion light years. 1.3 billion light years in 1.3 billion years in an expanding universe doesn't seem impossible since the universe is already larger (93 billion light years) than it is old (13.7 billion years).

      The article didn't explain how they've correlated distance with age. Doppler shift?

      The "No" part to your question, and the part which makes some of my answer wrong, is for observable:
      There would also be the implication that what is "observed" can not be older than 13.7 billion years so you would need to wait another 13.3 billion years to observe the 13.3 billion year-old galaxy **at** 26.6 billion light years away.

      • by aneroid (856995)

        Correction, the "observable" factor makes most of what I said about the age of MACS0647-JD wrong. Was trying to make 2 different points at once.

      • The article didn't explain how they've correlated distance with age. Doppler shift?

        Most likely, redshift is commonly used for the really big distances, and it's calibrated by measuring the comparative luminosity of a particular type of supernova which is always the same brightness.

  • by steppedleader (2490064) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @06:57AM (#42018049)
    like, literally, man.
  • by skovnymfe (1671822) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @06:59AM (#42018051)

    In a galaxy far, far away...

    You don't think... this could be...?

    • by RockDoctor (15477)
      No.

      At 420 million years (-ish) after the big bang, only the first few very massive and short-lived stars would have formed, evolved through their main sequence lifetimes, and exploded to release "metals" (nuclei heavier than helium, formed by nucleosynthesis) into the environment. Those "metals" (oxygen, iron, silicon, magnesium ...) are what you need to form solid planets.

      There is a complex feedback between the metallicity ("metals" concentration) of a star-forming cloud of gas and the size of star (and

  • by Anonymous Coward

    tfa with pictures:

    http://thespacereporter.com/2012/11/most-distant-galaxy-ever-spotted-with-natures-zoom-lenses/

  • That galaxy is a mere 420 mln years old - must have been one of the very first galaxies to have formed. Impressive find!

    Finding a galaxy at 13.5-14 bln years old, now that would be really interesting and means we have something wrong with our estimations of the age of our universe.

    • by ikaruga (2725453)

      Truly impressive indeed. But that makes me think: How far that galaxy is far from the origin of the universe, the ground zero of the BigBang? How could that galaxy help us to precisely calculate the diameter of the Universe? Plus imagine how even further away this galaxy(assuming it even exists) is from us now.

  • by Trapezium Artist (919330) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @07:44AM (#42018171)

    I realise that the title of this article was carried over from the CBC article, but could we at least try to remember that it's astronomers that discover things like this high-redshift galaxy, not an administration like NASA in isolation? I don't mean to diminish the absolutely central role played by NASA in both Hubble and Spitzer, of course, but at the same time, a whole range of people, institutions, and organisations come together to make scientific discoveries like this possible, and I think it's important that we recognise that science is often a highly collaborative and international endeavour.

    For example, there are 23 astronomers who co-authored the paper on this galaxy: 11 are from US institutions, 11 from European institutions, and 1 from a Chinese one. Note, I didn't say that they were (necessarily) American, European, and Chinese: in the list of co-authors, there are at least some Europeans working in the US and vice versa.

    Also, the Hubble Space Telescope is a collaboration between NASA and ESA, the European Space Agency, albeit with NASA in this instance contributing the majority. There are other space missions including Herschel and Planck which are led by ESA, but in which NASA plays a minority role. Many space missions are collaborative in this way, in essence underpinning the mix of US-based, Europe-based, and other international astronomers who've written this paper.

    In more detail, it can get even more complicated when you realise that NASA, ESA, and other space agencies themselves employ astronomers and other space scientists, so in that sense, discoveries can be made by those organisations too.

    Speaking of which, it might have been more appropriate to give the links to the original US and European press releases from the Space Telescope Science Institute [hubblesite.org], NASA [nasa.gov], and ESA [spacetelescope.org] to get the full story.

    Anyway, despite the (important, I believe) pedantry, this is is an interesting discovery :-)

  • Yes I know that light takes millions/billions of years to get to use, but if the 'big bag' happened only a 100 million years ago before you see 'this' blob how in the world would it be so far away? Some times when people discover stuff they fail to notice how it all began, if anything the galaxy might have been one of the first and it might be going through a rebirth cycle but it sure as hell isn't still forming from the start of the universe.

    Now I do understand that when you bend light it might take long
    • Ummm, (Score:4, Funny)

      by u64 (1450711) on Sunday November 18, 2012 @08:25AM (#42018283) Homepage

      I love to hear more about this 'big bag' theory.

      • well, you take all the mass in the univese put it in a huge salad bag then start mix until you get everything everywhere then let it explode. boom, you have life.
    • by stevelinton (4044)

      Assuming the astronomers are right, the way it happened is this:

      About 420 million years after the Big Bang, this clump of gas formed into a small galaxy and emited a lot of light. At that time, about 1 billion light years away, and moving away at close to the speed of light was another clump of gas.

      13 billion years later according to clocks on that other clump of gas, the light "overhauls" the other clump of gas, and is seen by Hubble.

      There are other points of view that assign different numbers to some bits

    • by oodaloop (1229816)

      but if the 'big bag' happened only a 100 million years ago

      Where do you get the age of the universe at 100 million years? Here, try this:

      http://lmgtfy.com/?q=age+of+universe

      • This is what I get for waking up in the morning still drunk and trying to post something on the internet, Yes I'm aware it's 10+ billion years old, but my main point is the fact human logic is based off human math and human time. When you go in to space time works differently so does a lot of other elements like light. We don't know how far out it takes for light to start to decay or if it ever decays at all. All we know is that we've run tests here and run off those numbers, which may not be anywhere in th
  • ...really old news to me.

  • Due to the time it takes light to travel through space, the images seen from Earth now show what the galaxy looked like when the universe was just 420 million years old, according to a press statement released from NASA.

    The universe must have still been wearing diapers at the time.

  • ... 13.3 billion light years away when it emitted the light we see today, then how far away is it now based on expansion of the universe? If someone says it was closer back then, then why isn't what we see today representing a younger galaxy?

  • What they don't realize, is that it IS the Milky Way, as it was 13.3 billion years ago. Of course it's smaller.

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