Astronomers have discovered a galaxy so remote that the light reaching Earth left the body some 13.6 billion years ago. That makes the find the most distant object ever detected.
If the universe is now 14.5 billion years old, then astronomers are seeing the galaxy as it appeared when the cosmos was just one-sixteenth of its current age, says codiscoverer Richard G. McMahon of the University of Cambridge in England. Appearing as a faint red dot, the object is slightly more distant and hails from an era slightly farther back in time—about 157 million years closer to the Big Bang—than the previous record holder, he adds. That object, reported just last month, is a brilliant quasar, the beacon that resides at the core of a galaxy.
"If you want to model the universe, you want to know when the first galaxies formed," notes McMahon. "And so what we're trying to do is find when to start the stopwatch.
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