Galaxy cluster Abell 2218
Close-up of the large galaxy cluster Abell 2218

The farthest known galaxy in the Universe

An international team of astronomers have discovered what could be the most distant known galaxy in the Universe.

Located an estimated 13 billion light-years away, the object is being viewed at a time only 750 million years after the 'Big Bang', when the Universe was barely five percent of its current age.

The galaxy was identified by combining the observations of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and Keck Telescopes on Mauna Kea in Hawaii. These great observatories got a boost from the added magnification of a natural cosmic 'gravitational lens'.

This close-up of the large galaxy cluster Abell 2218 shows how it acts as a natural powerful ‘gravitational lens’. The cluster is so massive that the light of distant objects passing through the cluster actually bends and is amplified, much as a magnifying glass bends and magnifies objects seen through it. Their images are amplified and stretched, seen as red, orange and blue arcs.

Such natural gravitational ‘telescopes’ allow astronomers to see extremely distant and faint objects that could otherwise not be seen.

The new galaxy is split into two ‘images’, marked with an ellipse and a circle, was detected in this photograph taken with the Advanced Camera for Surveys on board the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.

The extremely faint galaxy is so far away that even its visible light has been stretched into infrared wavelengths, making the observations particularly difficult.

Last update: 18 February 2004

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