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This galaxy could be the most distant cosmic object ever found

HD1 is pictured here, magnified, like a red blotch in a cluttered cosmos.

Harikane et al.

A galaxy born just after the Cosmic Dark Ages may be the most distant cosmic object ever spotted, but the true nature of the object remains a mystery.

Two new studies, published on April 7, present the case of an astronomical object – a galaxy – that can reach 13.5 billion light years away. They dubbed it HD1, and if confirmed, it would surpass the current record holder, GN-z11, a galaxy about 13.39 billion light-years away.

HD1 was discovered with the help of a number of space and ground-based telescopes, including NASA’s Spitzer and the Japanese Subaru Telescope, located at the Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawaii. Yuichi Harikane, an astronomer at the University of Tokyo and lead author of one of the new studies, said the team searched through more than 700,000 objects to find HD1. He noted that it was a startling discovery that gave him goosebumps.

The galaxy appears super bright in UV and gives astronomers clues as to what’s going on. The teams present two theories.

The first is that HD1 is a superpowered starburst galaxy. It could be so bright because it’s producing stars at about 10 times the rate than expected for a traditional starburst galaxy and these stars could even be among the first stars in the universe. They are known to shine brightly compared to other stars.

“If we assume that the stars produced in HD1 are these early stars, or Population III, then its properties could be more easily explained,” said Fabio Pacucci, astronomer at the Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian and lead author of one of the studies.

Alternatively, it could be a supermassive black hole feasting on gas and dust – a violent process that creates an enormous amount of light.

The article also describes another very distant galaxy, HD2, but because it is not enough that far, it doesn’t get as much of the limelight.

Michael Brown, an astronomer from Monash University in Australia not affiliated with the research, noted that the team had done a “perfectly reasonable job of identifying these galaxies and trying to confirm their distances”, but said “it there are reasons for prudence”.

Brown noted that the method used to calculate the distance to the galaxy, known as the redshift, can sometimes use more than one solution. In this case, the redshift for HD1 could be 13, which the team suggests, or it could be 4, which would mean the object is billions of light-years closer.

Confirming the galaxy’s distance will provide the motivation to explore new physical processes in the early universe, Harikane noted, because “HD1’s existence is not expected with current theoretical models.”

So how can we confirm exactly what HD1 is? More data, of course. Brown said NASA James Webb Space TelescopeWhich one is prepare to start studying the universe in the next few months will be able to examine HD1 and reveal how far away it is. Another NASA telescope, the Roman Nancy Grace Telescope, will also help elucidate the nature of HD1, but it is not expected to launch until 2027 at the earliest.

And if you’re looking for other deep space objects, why not try Earendel? NASA’s Hubble recently spotted this star, the most distant star ever observed, at a distance of 12.9 billion light-years.


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