Swiss find galaxy 13.23 billion light years away

The Abell galaxy could unlock the mysteries of the universe (Nasa)

A team of Swiss and French astronomers has detected the most distant galaxy yet, Abell 1835 IR1916, which is 13.23 billion light years away from Earth.

This content was published on March 1, 2004 minutes

Because its glimmer took so long to reach Earth, the galaxy offers a look back in time to when the universe was less than half a billion years old.

The previous record – which was set as recently as February 13 – was held by a team of American scientists, who discovered a galaxy around 13 billion light years away.

“This discovery opens the way to future explorations of the first stars and galaxies in the early universe,” said Daniel Schaerer, a professor from Geneva University Observatory, who was part of the record-breaking group.

The discovery was made possible by the Very Large Telescope (VLT) at the European Southern Observatory, a European organisation for astronomical research, based in Paranal, Chile. The VLT was built with Swiss help.

The newly discovered galaxy was observed when the universe was relatively young at 470 million years old and could be one of the first objects that came into being after the end of the so-called dark ages.

Scientists say this took place after the Big Bang created the universe, which occurred some 13.7 billion years ago. Abell’s mass is estimated to be 10,000 times lighter than our own galaxy.

“If we compare the age of the universe to that of a person aged 75, we are facing a baby aged two and a half,” said the observatory in a statement.

Light spectrum

The deciding factor in measuring the distance of Abell from Earth was the degree of red shift within the light spectrum.

The further away a light source is from Earth, the more it descends into the infrared part of the light spectrum. This means that the red density of an object can be linked to its age: the redder it is, the older it is.

The discovery will help astronomers to explore the so-called unknown territories, or the boundary between the dark ages and the “Cosmic Renaissance”.

The latter took place a few hundred million years after the Big Bang when the first generation of stars and then galaxies produced intense ultraviolet radiation, providing the first light sources in the gloom that followed the Big Bang.

The team will return to the VLT in summer to look into the chemical composition of the celestial bodies making up Abell.

“We are trying to see if these stars contain only base elements like hydrogen and helium or if they already have heavier chemical elements,” Schaerer told swissinfo.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Scientists say the Big Bang occurred 13.7 billion years ago, creating the universe.
A few hundred million years later, the first stars were the first light sources in the universe.
A galaxy is made of up a billion to 1,000 billion stars.

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