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A Glimmer from a Dark Cosmic Era
Ssc2012 12a

Credit: NASA/ESA/STScI/W. Zheng (JHU), and the CLASH team

Observation • September 19th, 2012 • ssc2012-12a

ssc2012-12a

With the combined power of NASA's Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes, as well as a cosmic magnification effect, astronomers have spotted what could be the most distant galaxy ever seen. Light from the primordial galaxy traveled approximately 13.2 billion light-years before reaching NASA's telescopes, shining forth from the so-called cosmic dark ages when the universe was just 3.6 percent of its present age.

Astronomers relied on gravitational lensing to catch sight of the early, distant galaxy. In this phenomenon, predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago, the gravity of foreground objects warps and magnifies the light from background objects.

In the big image at left, the many galaxies of a massive cluster called MACS J1149+2223 dominate the scene. Gravitational lensing by the giant cluster brightened the light from the newfound galaxy, known as MACS 1149-JD, some 15 times, bringing the remote object into view.

At upper right, a partial zoom-in shows MACS 1149-JD in more detail, and a deeper zoom appears to the lower right. In these visible and infrared light images from Hubble, MACS 1149-JD looks like a dim, red speck. The small galaxy's starlight has been stretched into longer wavelengths, or "redshifted," by the expansion of the universe. MACS 1149-JD's stars originally emitted the infrared light seen here at much shorter, higher-energy wavelengths, such as ultraviolet.

The far-off galaxy existed within an important era when the universe transformed from a starless expanse during the dark ages to a recognizable cosmos full of galaxies. The discovery of the faint, small galaxy opens a window onto the deepest, remotest epochs of cosmic history.

About the Object

Name
MACS J1149+2223
Type
Galaxy
Cosmology > Morphology > Deep Field
Cosmology > Phenomenon > Lensing
Distance
13,200,000,000 Light Years

Color Mapping

Band Wavelength Telescope
Infrared 105 nm Hubble WFC3
Infrared 110 nm Hubble WFC3
Infrared 125 nm Hubble WFC3
Infrared 140 nm Hubble WFC3
Infrared 160 nm Hubble WFC3
Optical 435 nm Hubble ACS
Optical 475 nm Hubble ACS
Optical 555 nm Hubble ACS
Optical 606 nm Hubble ACS
Optical 625 nm Hubble ACS
Optical 775 nm Hubble ACS
Optical 814 nm Hubble ACS
Optical 850 nm Hubble ACS

Astrometrics

Position (J2000)
RA =11h 49m 34.7s
Dec = 22° 24' 4.8"
Field of View
5.4 x 5.4 arcminutes
Orientation
North is 12.8° left of vertical