In a recent press release, NASA announced they have found a galaxy that formed only 13.5 billion years ago. This youngster of a galaxy was discovered by the well-known Hubble Space Telescope. This makes it one of the youngest galaxies that astronomers have uncovered to date with its birth taking place just 200 million years after the big bang.
Johan Richard of the Centre de Recherche Astronomique de Lyon said “This challenges theories of how soon galaxies formed in the first years of the universe,” “It could even help solve the mystery of how the hydrogen fog that filled the early universe was cleared.”
The newfound galaxy isn’t the most distant ever observed. However, it is one of the youngest to be detected with this level of clearness. In most cases, similar galaxies appear murky and as a result they’re difficult to study. Fortunately, the galaxy’s image is overstated by the gravity of an enormous cluster of galaxies. This phenomenon is called gravitational lensing.
With this finding, astronomers will have another clue to help explain how the early universe became “reionized.” During the development of the universe, in particular it’s early history, the universe transitioned from a period of darkness to a period of light when the stars ignited. According to the press release “This starlight ionized neutral hydrogen atoms floating around in space, giving them a charge. Ultraviolet light could then travel unimpeded through what had been an obscuring fog.”
The discovery of this new galaxy will serve to assist astronomers in probing what is called the “cosmic reionization epoch”. The release explains by saying; “When this galaxy was developing, its hot, young stars would have ionized vast amounts of the neutral hydrogen gas in intergalactic space. A population of similar galaxies probably also contributed to this reionization, but they are too faint to see without the magnifying effects of gravitational lensing.”
Jon Morse, NASA’s Astrophysics Division director at the agency’s headquarters in Washington closes by saying, “Observations like this open a window across space and time, but more importantly, they inspire future work to one day peer at the stars that lit up the universe following the big bang.”