NASA Telescopes Find Rare Galaxy at Dawn of Time

Astronomers using NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes have discovered that one of the most distant galaxies known is churning out stars at a shockingly high rate. The blob-shaped galaxy, called GN-108036, is the brightest galaxy found to date at such great distances.The galaxy was discovered and confirmed using the Subaru telescope and the W.M. Keck Observatory. The galaxy is 12.9 billion light-years away. Data from Spitzer and Hubble were used to measure the galaxy‘s high star production rate, equivalent to about 100 suns per year. GN-108036 lies near the very beginning of time itself, a mere 750 million years after our universe was created 13.7 billion years ago in an explosive “Big Bang.”

Astronomers refer to the object’s distance by a number called its “redshift,” which relates to how much its light has stretched to longer, redder wavelengths due to the expansion of the universe. Objects with larger redshifts are farther away and are seen further back in time. GN-108036 has a redshift of 7.2. Only a handful of galaxies have confirmed redshifts greater than 7, and only two of these have been reported to be more distant than GN-108036. Infrared observations from Spitzer and Hubble were crucial for measuring the galaxy’s star-formation activity. Astronomers were surprised to see such a large burst of star formation because the galaxy is so small and from such an early cosmic era.