Hubble detects galaxy from the infancy of the universe

One of the youngest and brightest galaxies ever seen Photo: NASA; ESA; L. Bradley (Johns Hopkins University); R. Bouwens (University of California, Santa Cruz); H. Ford (Johns Hopkins University); and G. Illingworth (University of California, Santa Cruz

February 18, 2008 The Hubble telescope’s Near Infrared Camera and Multi-Object Spectrometer has detected an infant galaxy from the “dark ages” of the universe. Named A1689-zD1, the galaxy originated just 700 million years after the Big Bang, and is believed to be one of the galaxies responsible for reheating the cold clouds of hydrogen that formed as a result of the rapid expansion of the universe.

The galaxy is so distant that its light is stretched to invisible infrared wavelengths, which prevented it being observed by Hubble’s Advanced Camera for Surveys. NICMOS, and the Spitzer Space Telescope’s Infrared Array Camera, were only able to capture images by using the Abell 1689 galaxy cluster to magnify the light – a technique knows as gravitational lensing.

The faraway galaxy will be used as a target for Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, which is scheduled to launch in 2013. The planned infrared observatory will have a mirror about seven times the area of Hubble's primary mirror and will collect more light from faint galaxies. JWST also will be able to view even more remote galaxies whose light has been stretched deep into infrared wavelengths that are out of the reach of NICMOS.

A1689-zD1 will also be observed by the upcoming Atacama Large Millimeter Array, which, when completed in 2012, will be the most powerful radio telescope in the world. "ALMA and JWST working together would be an ideal combination to really understand this galaxy," Illingworth said, noting that "JWST's images and ALMA's measurement of the gas motions will provide revolutionary insights into the very youngest galaxies."

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