Earlier this month, science enthusiasts got a glimpse of some of the oldest galaxies we have seen yet. NASA has been exploring galaxy clusters using the Hubble, Spitzer, and Chandra space telescopes in an initiative called “Frontier Fields.” The first fruits of that labor were delivered at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Maryland.
By looking deep into space, the telescopes have been able to capture images of ancient galaxies, which scientists believe to be about 3.5 billion years old. Because of how far away the galaxy is and the fact that light travels at a finite speed, the images captured by the telescope are essentially showing us what the galaxy looked like in its distant past.
“When we look at these galaxies, we are using Hubble as a time machine,” said Garth Illingworth, who coauthored the study and is an astronomer at UC Santa Cruz. “These galaxies are almost primeval in a sense… We have to understand how [they] came about.”
Four galaxies were found by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, each believed to be more than 13 billion years old, making them the closest in age to the Big Bang that we’ve yet seen. The Big Bang is believed to have occurred about 13.8 billion years ago. The four galaxies are unusually bright—about twenty times what scientists say they would expect. Star formations are being created about 50 times faster than in the Milky Way—but they are packed in much more tightly.
While many distant galaxies cannot be studied with ground-based telescopes because their light is too hard to detect, these galaxies are bright enough that they can much more easily be observed.
Some scientists wonder if different parts of the universe somehow affect how quickly galaxies form, a question that can only be answered through more intense research and time.
What do you think of these newly discovered galaxies?