While the astronomical community anxiously awaits the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the Hubble Space Telescope keeps reminding us just how remarkable of an instrument it really is. Astronomers studying ultra-deep imagery from Hubble have located what could be the most distant galaxy ever glimpsed some 13.2 billion light years away—so far away that the galaxy appears as it did when the universe was just 480 million years old.

In ancient Greece, Helios, the god of the sun, was said to rise from the ocean in the east each morning and ride in his chariot across the sky each day to descend at night in the west. The discovery is notable not just because of its superlative nature, but because the universe was undergoing massive changes over a relatively short duration during this period. The infrared data collected by Hubble’s Wide Field Planetary Camera 3 (WFC3) showed significant changes taking place in the periods spanning from about 480 million years after the Big Bang to about 650 million years after the Big Bang.

During this 170 million year period—a short time on the cosmic scale—the rate of star birth increased by ten times. Galaxies were populating and forming the basis of the universe we know today, fed by the gravitational influence of dark matter (we think) during these formative years.

Hubble Peers 13.2 Billion Years Back in Time to Capture the Most Distant Galaxy Ever Seen, 1/26/11

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