Astronomers say they may have found the oldest galaxy ever seen by human eyes.
The galaxy, little more than a smudge detected by the Hubble Space Telescope, is about 13.2 billion light-years away from Earth and dates back to when the universe was in its infancy, according to The New York Times.
NASA / AP
Images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope show the deepest image of the sky ever obtained in the near-infrared,left. The enhanced image, right, shows the galaxy that astronomers say existed 480 million years after the big bang. This ancient galaxy offers new insight into the early cosmos, when there were many fewer stars and galaxies than later.
"The fact that we are finally able to look into the primordial universe for the first time is quite exciting," said Olivia Johnson of the Royal Greenwich Observatory, according to BBC News.
Part of the reason that older galaxies are so hard to find is that they are moving away from us as the universe expands.
This means that their light shifts to longer wavelengths, like a siren that sounds lower as it moves farther away.
Using Hubble's new Wide Field Camera 3, astronomers led by Rychard Bouwens from Leiden Observatory in the Netherlands were able to detect light going back all the way to when the universe was a youthful 480 million years old.
The team says there is a chance that what they're seeing isn't actually a galaxy. Still, they say they're 80 percent sure that what they've found is indeed the oldest galaxy on record.
The findings are published in the journal Nature.
The astronomers hope the data will provide some insight into how the formation of galaxies accelerated and what happened to the fog of hydrogen and helium that filled the universe billions of years ago.
"This is clearly an era when galaxies were evolving rapidly," the astronomers said in the article, according to The New York Times.