Looking across great distances in the universe, we see things as they were in the past. With the universe approximately 13.8 billion years old, this newly discovered Galaxy was in existence, as we currently see it, when the universe was only 5% of its current age.
“It’s exciting to know we’re the first people in the world to see this,” said Vithal Tilvi, a Texas A&M postdoctoral research associate and co-author of the paper published in the journal Nature. “It raises interesting questions about the origins and the evolution of the universe.”
As the universe continues to expand, we are seeing the Galaxy where it was 13 billion years ago. But astronomers estimate, based on this expansion, that the Galaxy is actually roughly 30 billion light years away by now. If you want to do the math, that is six trillion miles per year – times 30 billion years.
Galaxy z8_GND_5296 also appears to be (or have been) a very busy galaxy, giving birth to about 300 sun-like stars each year. By comparison, our own Milky Way galaxy creates only one or two new stars each year.
The discovery of z8_GND_5296 was made on a clear April night when Tilvi, Finkelstein and his graduate student, Mimi Song, sat behind a panel of computers in the control room of the W.M. Keck Observatory. Perched atop the summit of Hawaii’s dormant Mauna Kea volcano, Keck is home to the two largest optical and infrared telescopes in the world, each standing eight stories tall, weighing 300 tons and equipped with 10-meter-wide mirrors.
Soon however, the Giant Magellan Telescope, scheduled for completion in 2020, will dwarf the abilities of ground based telescopes, generating images 10 times sharper even than the Hubble Space Telescope.
“The Giant Magellan Telescope will revolutionize this research,” Papovich said. “The GMT will have about five times the light gathering power of the biggest telescopes we’re using now, and it will make the measurements we’re doing that much easier. It will probably take the GMT to really understand the conditions in the very early universe.”