Most distant galaxy lens discovered

Far away galaxy sets record for acting as magnifying glass

This Hubble Space Telescope image shows the most distant gravitational lens discovered to date.

NASA/ESA/A. van der Wel

Astronomers have discovered a galaxy about 9.4 billion light-years from Earth that is magnifying the light of an even more distant galaxy. It’s the most distant gravitational lens found to date.

A gravitational lens is made from a pair of objects in which the light from the distant one interacts with the gravity of the closer one. If the objects are perfectly aligned an observer on Earth sees the photons from the distant object as a ring.

Describing the discovery October 16 in Astrophysical Journal Letters, the team of astronomers led by Arjen van der Wel of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg, Germany report that the lensing galaxy is relatively light, young and bursting with new stars.

These characteristics are a bit peculiar and could mean that this type of starburst galaxy is more abundant in the young universe than previously thought. If so, then astronomers could have to re-think how galaxies evolved.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

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