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Yale snaps photo of 13.4 billion year old galaxy

Posted at 2:19 PM, Mar 12, 2016

Imagine being able to take a photograph that goes 13.4 billion years into the past. That was exactly what Yale researchers were able to do using the NASA's Hubble Telescope.

Yale led a team of researchers from the Space Telescope Science Institute and the University of California-Santa Cruz to investigate galaxy GN-z11. After a 13.4 billion year journey through the universe, the light from the galaxy has made it to Earth. It is believed the light from the galaxy originated just 400 million years after the Big Bang. 

GN-z11 is in the constellation Ursa Major, otherwise known as the Big Dipper. 

“We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble. We see the galaxy at a time when the universe was only 3% of its current age, very close to the end of the so-called Dark Ages of the universe,” said Yale astronomer Pascal Oesch, the principal investigator.

The galaxy is 25 times smaller than the Milky Way, but is rapidly growing - or shall we say 'was' rapidly growing. Thought the galaxy is more than 13 billion years old, we're only seeing it as an infant galaxy.

“It’s amazing that a galaxy so massive existed only 200 to 300 million years after the very first stars started to form,” Garth Illingworth of the University of California-Santa Cruz said. “It takes really fast growth, producing stars at a huge rate, to have formed a galaxy that is a billion solar masses (one solar mass is equal to the mass of the Sun) so soon.”