Hubble just smashed the record for the most distant galaxy ever seen

We're now looking 13.4 billion years back in time

We live on a tiny rock in the middle of nowhere and the Hubble Space Telescope has been a terrific window into the rest of the universe for the last 25 years. The further away an object is, the longer its light has taken to reach us. The Hubble telescope can see objects so far away that it’s the closest thing we have to a real time machine. It may have a replacement on the way soon in the shape of the James Webb Space Telescope, but the Hubble is still one of the coolest bits of tech we have in orbit.

A new study is reporting that the trusty old Hubble has broken the record of the furthest galaxy ever observed. During a survey called GOODS North (Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey North), the telescope observed a fascinating galaxy designated GN-z11. It’s 13.4 billion light years away from us and so amazingly bright for its distance that scientists have been able to measure its spectrum and reliably calculate its distance.

GN-z11 is so far away that we’re observing a galaxy that existed just 400 million years after the Big Bang, and 150 million years earlier than the previous record holder. We’re looking at an object that was around when the universe was only 3% the age it is now. If the whole universe was represented by 24 hours, we’re looking back 23 hours, almost back to the start. Here it is:

Image © NASA and ESA

The red colour doesn’t reflect the real colour of the galaxy if you had been there to see it. Instead the expansion of the universe itself has stretched the light to longer wavelengths that appear as red to us. The galaxy is quite mysterious as it’s very large and bright for being so early in the history of the universe. The first ever stars are thought to have formed only a few hundred million years earlier, so it’s surprising that such a bright galaxy developed so quickly.

GN-z11 is right at the limit of what Hubble can observe. This makes the James Webb Telescope even more exciting as it will be able to take a closer look at this mysterious galaxy. Beyond that it may find even more distant sights that help us better understand the earliest times in the universe.


Main image © NASA