Hubble Space Telescope Captures Most Distant Star Ever Recorded; 28 Billion Light-Years Aw...

The Hubble Telescope has captured a glimpse of the most distant single star it’s ever observed. The star was recorded to be 28 billion light-years away.

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The Hubble Space Telescope captured a single star that is 28 billion light-years away, the furthest it’s ever captured a glimpse of. The star could be between 50 to 500 times bigger than our sun, and is likely millions of times brighter, according to a study published in the journal Nature.

This marks the farthest detection of a star yet, marked 900 million years after the big bang. Astronomers in the study nicknamed the star Earendel, which is taken from the Old English language meaning “morning star” or “rising light.” The Hubble broke its own record set in 2018 when it observed a star that existed when the universe was about four billion years old. 

Earendel is so distant that the light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach us, according to study co-author Victoria Strait, a postdoctoral researcher at the Cosmic Dawn Center in Copenhagen. Strait discussed how the Earendel discovery could help astronomers investigate the early years of the universe. 

“As we peer into the cosmos, we also look back in time, so these extreme high-resolution observations allow us to understand the building blocks of some of the very first galaxies.” 

“When the light that we see from Earendel was emitted, the Universe was less than a billion years old; only 6% of its current age. At that time it was 4 billion lightyears away from the proto-Milky Way, but during the almost 13 billion years it took the light to reach us, the Universe has expanded so that it is now a staggering 28 billion lightyears away,” Strait explained.

The stars that we see in our night sky are all a part of our own Milky Way galaxy. Distant galaxies tend to look like a blur of light to powerful telescopes, which are typically used to see individual stars within our closest galaxies. 

Gravitational lensing is the technology used in the Hubble Space Telescope, and refers to when closer objects act like a magnifying glass for distant objects, according to Ashley Strickland, a space and science writer for CNN. “When light passes close to massive objects, it follows a curve around that object. If that object is between Earth (or in this case, Hubble) and the distant light source, it can actually deflect and send the light toward us, acting as a lens to magnify its intensity. Most distant galaxies have been found this way.”

The alignment of a massive cluster of galaxies acted as the magnifying glass in this case, which allowed scientists to get a better look at the light of Earendel, which was intensified thousands of times thanks to gravitational lensing. Lead author Brian Welch, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University, discussed how this discovery was made further.

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“Normally at these distances, entire galaxies look like small smudges, with the light from millions of stars blending together. The galaxy hosting this star has been magnified and distorted by gravitational lensing into a long crescent that we named the Sunrise Arc.”

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“To ensure that this truly is a single star, rather than two located very close to one another, the research team will use the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope to observe Earendel. Webb could also reveal the temperature and mass of the star,” said Strickland.

“With James Webb, we will be able to confirm that Earendel is indeed just one star, and at the same time quantify which type of star it is. Webb will even allow us to measure its chemical composition. Potentially, Earendel could be the first known example of the Universe’s earliest generation of stars,” said study coauthor Sune Toft, leader of the Cosmic Dawn Center and professor at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen.

“Earendel existed so long ago that it may not have had all the same raw materials as the stars around us today. Studying Earendel will be a window into an era of the universe that we are unfamiliar with, but that led to everything we do know. It’s like we’ve been reading a really interesting book, but we started with the second chapter, and now we will have a chance to see how it all got started,” Welch said.

“With Webb, we may see stars even farther than Earendel, which would be incredibly exciting. We’ll go as far back as we can. I would love to see Webb break Earendel’s distance record.”