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Twinkle, twinkle Swiss help discover most distant star ever

Distant star Icarus

Icarus is only visible because it is being magnified by the gravity of a massive galaxy cluster, shown on the left, that sits between the Earth and the galaxy that contains the distant star. The panels on the right show the view in 2011, without Icarus visible, compared with the star’s brightening in 2016

(NASA, ESA and P. Kelly, University of Minnesota)

A star has been found nine billion light-years from Earth by an international research team with Swiss involvement. 

The record-breaking star, named Icarus by the scientists, could be observed by the Hubble Space Telescope thanks to gravitational lensingexternal link. Its light would under normal circumstances be too weak to see from the Earth, the University of Geneva said in a statementexternal link on Monday. 

Its official name is “MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1”, after the cluster of galaxies – some five billion light-years from Earth – whose gravity warped the space around the cluster, causing the light from Icarus (located behind the cluster) to be distorted and magnified some 2,000 times. 

“We’ve managed to see for the first time a star roughly nine billion light-years away,” said Jean-Paul Kneib, professor of the astronomy laboratory at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL). 

“This star is at least 100 times further than the furthest star that we’ve been able to study until now, with the exception of exploding supernovas,” added Patrick Kelly at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. 

Antonio Cava from the astronomy department at the University of Geneva said they had been able to learn an “enormous amount of information” about the star and its environment.


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