NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope continues to break observing records. It has observed the most distant star ever seen, 9 billion light-years from Earth.
The universe is 13.8 billion years old. Meanwhile, the light of this star started traveling at least 9 billion light-years ago.
The team had been using the Hubble Space Telescope to monitor a supernova when they noticed a point of light, which they later realized was an individual star.
In general, even the most advanced telescopes can’t see stars at distances greater than around 100 million light years. However, a phenomenon which scientists call it gravitational lensing has made this achievement possible.
This phenomenon refers to how a massive galaxy cluster or another object can bend light from objects behind it. Thus, making dim objects much brighter from Earth’s perspective.
This time, it was the gravity of a massive galaxy cluster 5 billion light-years away that created the lensing effect. Thereby, allowing astronomers to see the object. They nicknamed this star as Icarus.
Usually, this lensing process can magnify objects by up to 50 times. But this time, the newfound star was magnified more than 2,000 times. That’s because a star was briefly passing through the line of sight between Hubble and Icarus, researchers said in a statement from the University of California, Berkeley.
“You can see individual galaxies out there, but this star is at least 100 times farther away than the next individual star we can study, except for supernova explosions,” lead study author Patrick Kelly said in the statement. Kelly was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley when he worked on the research but is currently on the faculty at the University of Minnesota.
“For the first time ever we’re seeing an individual normal star – not a supernova, not a gamma-ray burst, but a single stable star – at a distance of 9 billion light-years,” said Professor Alex Filippenko, an astronomer at the University of California, Berkeley, and a co-author of the paper documenting this discovery. “These lenses are amazing cosmic telescopes.”
Dr. Kelly and the team predict that in the coming decades Icarus will be magnified many more times, potentially as much as 10,000 times its actual brightness.
They are pretty confident that by using gravitational lensing they could see many more distant objects. Thus, learn more about stars in galaxies formed during the first days of the universe
“There are alignments like this all over the place as background stars or stars in lensing galaxies move around, offering the possibility of studying very distant stars dating from the early universe, just as we have been using gravitational lensing to study distant galaxies,” Filippenko said in the statement. “For this type of research, nature has provided us with a larger telescope than we can possibly build.”
These findings were published in the journal Nature Astronomy.
Thumbnail image: The most distant star ever found, named Icarus, lies 9 billion light-years away. Credit: P. Kelly (University of California, Berkeley)/NASA/ESA.