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Astronomers Determine Distance to Farthest Galaxy Ever Measured

NASA, ESA, P. Oesch and I. Momcheva (Yale University), and the 3D-HST and HUDF09/XDF teams
The galaxy, dubbed EGS-zs8-1, is pictured above, inset, and was first detected by the Hubble Space telescope.
"The light of this source has been traveling to us for 13.1 billion years."
Pascal Oesch

The most distant galaxy ever measured is 13.1 billion light years away, according to a new study out of Yale University. 

The galaxy, dubbed EGS-zs8-1, was first detected by the Hubble Space Telescope. Immediately, it stood out to scientists as a candidate for one of the most distant sources of light ever captured. 

Yale astronomer Pascal Oesch said the galaxy’s light carried signs of star formation and appeared to have traveled a really long way to get here. In other words, he said, it was interesting.

"So we took a deeper look again with the Keck ground-based telescope," Oesch said. "In particular, Keck has this fantastic instrument, which is calledMOSFIRE. This allows us to take a spectrum. A spectrum means we are essentially breaking up the light of this source in smaller pieces, in different wavelengths."

The analysis was published in the Astrophysical Journal, but this is what his team found out: "The light of this source has been traveling to us for 13.1 billion years," Oesch said.

Credit Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons
The Keck observatory is near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii.

Oesch said scientists have measured accurate distances for only a handful of galaxies more than 13 billion light years from Earth. This galaxy, at 13.1 billion light years, is the most distant one ever measured.

Oesch is hopeful his team’s work will orient the next generation of technology, like the James Webb Space Telescope, to study this area in more detail and fine-tune the galaxy’s age even more.

“We can start to build up a picture of how quickly heavy elements were building up across the history of the universe. How galaxies were building up across the history of the universe,” Oesch said. “These very early galaxies are the building blocks for everything that we see around us today.”

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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