NASA’s Hubble Telescope records the most distant star in the universe

NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has set an extraordinary new milestone: detecting light from a star that existed in the first billion years after the birth of the universe in the big bang – the most distant individual star ever seen.

The star named Earendel is so far away that its light took 12.9 billion years to reach Earth, appearing when the universe was only 7% of its current age.

The smallest objects previously seen at such a great distance are clusters of stars, embedded within early galaxies.

Record

The discovery represents a record for the only star detected by Hubble in 2018, which is 4 billion years old.

Scientists use the word “redshift” because, as the universe expands, light from distant objects is stretched or “shifted” to longer, redder wavelengths as it travels toward us.

“We almost didn’t believe it at first, it was much farther away than the most distant and most redshifted previous star,” said astronomer Brian Welch of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, lead author of the paper describing the discovery. , published in the March 30th issue of Nature .

The discovery was made from data collected during Hubble’s RELICS (Reionization Lensing Cluster Survey) program, led by co-author Dan Coe at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), also in Baltimore.

“Typically, at these distances, entire galaxies look like tiny specks, with the light of millions of stars mixing together,” Welch said.

“The galaxy that hosts this star has been magnified and distorted by gravitational lensing into a long crescent we call the Sunrise Arc.”

Morning Star

After studying the galaxy in detail, Welch determined that one feature is an extremely magnified star he named Earendel, which means “morning star” in Old English. The discovery promises to open an unexplored era of very early star formation.

“Earendel has been around for so long that it may not have the same raw materials as the stars around us today,” explained Welch.

“Studying Earendel will be a window into an era of the universe we are unfamiliar with, but which led to everything we know. It’s like we’re reading a really interesting book, but we started with the second chapter, and now we’ll get a chance to see how it all started,” Welch said.

Studies

Astronomers expect Earendel to remain highly magnified for years to come. It will be observed by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

Webb’s high sensitivity to infrared light is necessary to learn more about Earendel, because its light is stretched (redshifted) to longer infrared wavelengths due to the expansion of the universe.

“With Webb, we hope to confirm that Earendel is indeed a star, in addition to measuring its brightness and temperature,” Coe said.

These details will narrow down its type and stage in the stellar life cycle. “We also hope to find that the Sunrise Arc galaxy lacks the heavy elements that form in subsequent generations of stars. This suggests that Earendel is a rare, massive, metal-poor star,” Coe said.

Earendel’s composition will be of great interest to astronomers because it formed before the universe was filled with the heavy elements produced by successive generations of massive stars.

If follow-up studies find that Earendel is composed only of primordial hydrogen and helium, it would be the first evidence for the legendary Population III stars, which are thought to be the first stars born after the big bang. While the likelihood is slim, Welch admits he’s attractive.

“With Webb, we can see stars even further away than Earendel, which would be incredibly exciting,” said Welch. “We will go as far as possible. I would love to see Webb break Earendel’s distance record,” he concluded.

With Hubble/NASA information

About Raju Singh

Raju has an exquisite taste. For him, video games are more than entertainment and he likes to discuss forms and art.

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