Photo in the News: Telescopes Spot Early Galaxy Forming

Distant Galaxy Image
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February 13, 2008—A far-off lumpy galaxy just forming 13 billion years ago is among the earliest and most distant cosmic objects ever spotted, new images reveal.

The galaxy appears as a grayish white smudge in a close-up view (center right) and as a whitish blob (bottom right).

Though the black-and-white images are fuzzy, they are the most detailed and best confirmed look back in time that humans have seen, astronomer Holland Ford said.

A Johns Hopkins University professor, Ford was part of a team of scientists taking the pictures with NASA's space telescopes, Hubble and Spitzer.

The galaxy, called A1689-zD1, is from when the universe was about 700 million years old, not long after the formation of the first galaxies.

And it's different from galaxies like our Milky Way, Ford said.

"It is much smaller. It is lumpy. It has two centers instead of one and it is undergoing extreme star formation," he said. "It is basically the building blocks for what will be a galaxy like our own in the future."

To see that far away, astronomers used a cluster of much closer galaxies as a natural zoom lens for the telescopes. Strong gravitational forces bend light around that cluster of galaxies, magnifying the light from directly behind it.

In this case, the infant galaxy appeared at least ten times brighter than it would have without the natural help, Ford said. Other places behind the cluster appear hundreds of times sharper, because the natural lens has to be lined up perfectly to see what's behind it, he added.

When Earth gets stronger telescopes in the future, including a new space telescope to be launched in 2013, this young galaxy would be a good place to look, astronomers said.

—Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

Copyright 2008 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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