Astronomers from NASA had a great idea of pairing a gravitational lens with the legendary Hubble Space Telescope to give it a boost and what they have found is simply amazing.
It is a new distant galaxy that contradicts existing theories about early star formation. Scientist were able to capture images 10 times sharper than the space telescope could on its own. The resulting images reveal star-forming knots of newborn stars only 200 to 300 light years across in a galaxy that formed only 2.7 billion years after the Big Bang.
“When we saw the reconstructed image, we said, ‘Wow, it looks like fireworks are going off everywhere,'” said Jane Rigby, an astronomer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, and lead author of the third paper.
Gravitational lenses can be any type of object, ranging from a single massive galaxy to an entire cluster. As light from the more distant galaxy passes the massive object, it is bent and distorted into an arc. This newfound cluster was magnified almost 30 times using the same process. Scientists then had to develop a special code to remove the distortions and reveal the galaxy as it would normally appear.
“There are star-forming knots as far down in size as we can see,” Traci Johnson, a doctoral student in astronomy at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. Johnson is the lead author of two of the three research papers describing Hubble’s new results, which were published on July 6 in the The Astrophysical Journal and also in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
These fascinating images would simply be impossible without the aid of the gravitational lens. Without the lens, the disk galaxy would then have appeared smooth and unremarkable through the Hubble Space Telescope.
The newly found galaxy is only about 11 billion light years from the Sun which means because of the dynamics of time and distance, astronomers can see it as it looked 11 billion years ago, just a few billion years after the Big Bang phenomena from which the universe originated about 13.8 billion years ago.
NASA mentioned that the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be even more powerful and be able to reveal older, redder stars. It would also be able to peer through the dust around the galaxy.
“With the Webb Telescope, we’ll be able to tell you what happened in this galaxy in the past, and what we missed with Hubble because of dust,” Rigby said.
Resource Credit: Space.com