Mar 30, 2022 - Science

Hubble Space Telescope detects light from farthest star ever seen

NASA announced Wednesday that the Hubble Space Telescope detected light from the most distant individual star ever seen to date.

Why it matters: Light from the star, which existed within the first billion years after the Big Bang, took 12.9 billion years to reach Earth.

  • The previous record of the farthest star ever seen took 9 billion years to reach Earth, and it was detected by Hubble in 2018.

The big picture: Hubble was able to detect the star — which researchers named "Earendel," meaning "morning star" in Old English — through a natural gravitational lens caused by clusters of galaxies that magnifies light from distant galaxies behind this gravitational field.

  • Researchers estimate Earendel is at least 50 times the mass of the Sun and millions of times as bright, rivaling the most massive stars known.

What they're saying: "We almost didn’t believe it at first, it was so much farther than the previous most-distant, highest redshift star," Brian Welch, an astronomer at Johns Hopkins University and the lead author of the paper describing the find in the journal Nature on Wednesday, said in a statement.

  • “Normally at these distances, entire galaxies look like small smudges, with the light from millions of stars blending together."
  • “Earendel existed so long ago that it may not have had all the same raw materials as the stars around us today,” he added. “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."

What's next: Welch and other researchers hope to view Earendel with NASA's newly launched James Webb Space Telescope, which is significantly more powerful than Hubble.

  • “With Webb we expect to confirm Earendel is indeed a star, as well as measure its brightness and temperature,” said Dan Coe, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute and co-author of the paper.
  • Coe said he expects Webb will be able to help determine the elements that make up Earendel. The star was formed before heavy elements were largely present in the universe, and it could be a rare massive low-metal star largely made up of primordial hydrogen and helium.

Go deeper: NASA's Mark Vande Hei returns to Earth after record mission

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