Scientists find farthest galaxy ever

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

new galaxy zoom
Since z8_GND_5296 (the red splotch inside the square) is around 30 billion light years away, this is a really nice picture! I wonder if I can borrow this camera to take pictures of my new puppy.

Sometimes, it’s humbling to stargaze at night and realize how large the universe really is. Heck, the star closest to our solar system is called Proxima Centauri, and that’s around 4 billion lightyears away. Well, researchers just discovered a galaxy more than 30 billion lightyears away, and it’s the furthest one from the Milky Way ever found!

If you want to know what that equals in miles, it’s roughly – brace yourselves  – 763,549,940,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles, give or take few zeroes. Yeah, I can’t wrap my head around it either. The scientists called it z8_GND_5296 (honestly, who comes up with these names?), and there’s more to it than just being really far.

The newly discovered galaxy was born just after the Big Bang – the theorized version of how the entire galaxy came to be. By studying it, researchers can basically tell what the young version of the Universe was like. “We like to study how we came to be: humans, civilizations, society, galaxies,” said University of Texas assistant professor Steven Finkelstein. “When you look back at distant galaxies, things look very different. How did they go from little bumps to big, beautiful spirals? By looking at galaxies far away, we can kind of play a movie of how the Universe was formed.”

Even though the the galaxy is about 2% the size of the Milky Way, it’s a star-making machine. While our relatively large galaxy makes around 1-2 stars the size of the Sun a year, z8_GND_5296 can make about 300! Phew, if there is an Earth-like planet over there, there must be non-stop daylight every day.

While z8_GND_5296 is getting a lot of attention, its fame might not last very long. “You know, this distance record won’t stand forever,” Finkelstein says. “The last record was from just a year and a half ago. But when it does get broken again, I hope it’s by us.”

Images courtesy of V. Tilvi, S.L. Finkelstein, C. Papovich, and the Hubble Heritage Team.