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Oct 23, 2013 01:55 PM EDT

Astronomers Spot Oldest, Most Distant Galaxy Ever Observed at 30 Billion Light Years Away

Astronomers have spotted what appears to be the most distant and ancient galaxy ever seen from Earth, BBC News reported.

The galaxy is estimated at about 30 billion light years away and could potentially give scientists insight into a time period directly following the Big Bang. The international team of astronomers saw the galaxy (named z8_GND_5296) using the Hubble Telescope and the Keck Observatory in Hawaii.

"This is the most distant galaxy we've confirmed," study lead researcher Steven Finkelstein, from the University of Texas at Austin, said. "We are seeing this galaxy as it was 700 million years after the Big Bang."

Unable to measure the distance by judging color, the astronomers used a system called redshift, designed to account for such a kind of change. The new galaxy scored a redshift amount of 7.51, beating the previous record of 7.21. The light took so long to travel to Earth's sights that the astronomers are seeing the galaxy as it was approximately 13.1 billion years ago.

"One very interesting way to learn about the Universe is to study these outliers and that tells us something about what sort of physical processes are dominating galaxy formation and galaxy evolution," Finkelstein said. "What was great about this galaxy is not only is it so distant, it is also pretty exceptional."

The new galaxy is estimated at about one or two percent the mass of our Milky Way. What has caught the team's interest, however, is the astonishing rate at which it is producing stars. The galaxy is making stars out of gas and dust at a rate hundreds of times faster than our own.

"This, along with some other evidence, shows that there are already quite surprisingly evolved galaxies in the very early Universe," said Dr. Marek Kukula, Public Astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. "This high star-formation rate maybe is a clue as to why these galaxies can form so quickly."

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