NASA scientists announced they have found a galaxy 13.3 billion light years from Earth—the discovery is believed to be the furthest known object from Earth.
Dubbed MACS0647-JD, the galaxy was discovered using NASA's Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes and an interstellar trick known as "gravitational lensing," which uses distant galaxies as a type of "zoom lens" to magnify galaxies that lie beyond them. The effect both magnifies and brightens distant objects, allowing telescopes to observe them.
"This [magnification galaxy] does what no manmade telescope can do," Marc Postman, of Baltimore's Space Telescope Institute, said in a release. "Without the magnification, it would require a Herculean effort to observe this galaxy."
The observation allowed astronomers to look into the past—scientists believe they were looking at light from MACS0647-JD just 420 million years after the big bang, which scientists think happened 13.7 billion years ago.
NASA isn't sure about what happened to the newly-discovered galaxy in the billions of years since it was formed, but they speculate that it has likely grown. The galaxy is likely just a "tiny fraction" of the size of the Milky Way.
"Over the next 13 billion years, it may have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of merging events with other galaxies and galaxy fragments," Dan Coe, lead author of the study announcing the discovery, said in a release. "This object may be one of many building blocks of a galaxy."
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Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.