Researchers using NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble telescopes have discovered a galaxy burning brightly in the distant reaches of our universe. The galaxy, labeled GN-108036, appears to be giving birth to stars at an alarming rate. Using data from the Spitzer and Hubble telescopes, it is estimated the galaxy is churning out the equivalent of 100 of our suns per year. That is 30 times what the Milky Way galaxy produces. Seeing the galaxy is like looking back in time. It is believed to have appeared about 750 million years after the theoretical “Bing Bang”.
The international team of astronomers, led by Masami Ouchi of the University of Tokyo, Japan were the first to recognize the galaxy. They used the Subaru Telescope on Mauna Kea in Hawaii and later confirmed the distance using the W.M. Keck Observatory, which is located in Mauna Kea as well. Infrared readings from Spitzer and Hubble telescopes were crucial in determining star formations in the galaxy. The galaxy appears to be about 12.9 billion light-years away.
Astronomers use a measurement called “redshift” to measure the distance of stars. As light travels over great distances the wavelengths are stretched and become “redder” due the expansion of the universe. Objects with a larger “redshift” are more distant and further back in time. GN-108036 has a redshift of 7.2. To put this in perspective, very few galaxies have been discovered with a redshift of 7. Only two have been confirmed to be higher than GN-108036. It’s like looking at a cosmic time capsule.
What makes this such an amazing discovery is that the galaxy is so small yet it is producing a lot of stars. Galaxies that formed this early in time did not gather the mass that galaxies like our own have. GN-108036 was likely a player in a time called the “dark ages” of our universe. This was a time when shortly after the “Big Bang” a thick fog of hydrogen permeated the universe. As galaxies like GN-108036 formed, they essentially burned through the fog causing the barrier to become transparent. “This was therefore a likely ancestor of massive and evolved galaxies seen today,” said Bahram Mobasher, a team member from the University of California, Riverside.