A coincidental alignment may have revealed a star from the first billion years of the universe.
If confirmed, this star would be the most distant star ever observed, erasing the previous record (SN: 7/11/17) Light from the star traveled about 12.9 billion years in its journey toward Earth, about 4 billion years longer than the former record holder, researchers reported in March 30. Nature, Studying the object could help researchers learn more about the structure of the universe during that early, mysterious time.
“These are things you only hope you can discover,” says astronomer Katherine Whitaker of the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who was not part of the new study.
Researchers analyzed dozens of clusters of galaxies close to Earth, analyzing images from the Hubble Space Telescope. These clusters are so massive that they bend and focus light from more distant background objects, a process known as gravitational lensing (SN: 10/6/15,
In images of a cluster, Johns Hopkins University astronomer Brian Welch and his colleagues observed a long, thin, red arc. The team realized that the arc was a background galaxy whose light cluster was distorted and amplified.
Researchers say that the red arc above it is a bright spot that is too small to be a small galaxy or star cluster. “We found it was a lensed star,” Welch says.
Researchers estimate that the light of a star is produced only 900 million years after the Big Bang, about 13.8 billion years ago.
Welch and his colleagues believe that the object they have poetically nicknamed the Old English word “arendelle”, meaning “morning star” or “rising light”, less than the mass of the Sun. At least 50 times more. But researchers can’t determine that value, or learn more about the star or even confirm that it is a star, without more detailed observations.
Researchers plan to use the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope to probe Arendelle (SN: 10/6/21) telescope, also known as JWST, will begin studying the distant universe this summer.
JWST may uncover objects from earlier times in the universe’s history more than Hubble did because the new telescope will be more sensitive to light from more distant objects. Welch hopes the telescope will discover many more of these gravitationally lensed stars. “I hope this record doesn’t last very long.”