Astronomers have discovered the faintest galaxy ever detected, dating back to the early universe. The ancient structure, which has been nicknamed Tayna, is estimated to have existed around 400 million years after the tumultuous birth of our universe, which exploded into life 13.8 billion years ago.
The observations that led to the discovery were carried out by the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope. By observing an incredibly distant object such as Tayna, astronomers are able to gaze into the ancient past and analyze the elusive galactic structures that populated the early cosmos.
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Even with the incredible optical power afforded by orbital telescopes, it would have been extremely challenging to detect the young galaxy without the aid of a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. Gravitational lensing takes place when an extremely massive structure is present between the telescope and a more distant object.
In this particular instance, Hubble had been observing an enormous galaxy cluster known as MACS J0416.1-2403, which is estimated to sit roughly 4 billion light-years from Earth, boasting a mass roughly a million billion times that of our Sun..
It is believed that Tayna is of a similar size to the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, though it is thought that Tayna produces up to 10 times as many stars at the time of observation.
It's possible that Tayna is simply the embryonic form of older galaxies such as our own, and as such observations of the infantile structure could provide exciting glimpses in to the evolutionary paths of larger, more fully formed galaxies.
The discovery points to an abundance of ancient targets for the future James Webb Space Telescope, which recently underwent its first mirror instillation, and is set for launch in 2018.
A paper on the findings has been published in The Astrophysical Journal.