Scientists have discovered the farthest possible star ever seen to date, an extraordinary new benchmark in the detailing of our Universe.
An international team of researchers, including Dr Guillaume Mahler from our Department of Physics, and led Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), in Baltimore, used NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope to see the star, nicknamed ‘Earendel’, which means morning star in Old English.
How was the star discovered?
It is estimated the light from Earendel has taken 12.9 billion years to reach Earth, which is a huge leap further back in time from the previous single-star record holder that existed nine billion years ago.
The discovery of the star was made from data collected during Hubble’s RELICS (Reioization Lensing Cluster Survey) programme.
The star would have been impossible to see without the aid of a huge galaxy cluster, which warps the fabric of space and creates a powerful natural magnifying glass that distorts and greatly amplifies the light from distant objects behind it.
The Earendel star appeared in a ripple in the fabric of space and its brightness was magnified by a factor of thousands. A bit like how a rippled surface of a swimming pool creates patterns of bright light on the bottom of the pool on a sunny day.
The Earendel star will be observed by NASA’s Webb Space Telescope and it will measure the brightness and temperature of the star.
Webb’s high sensitivity to infrared light is needed to learn more about Earendel because its light is stretched to longer infrared wavelengths due to the Universe’s expansion.
The team of scientists are hoping the launch mission will also determine if Earendel is indeed a single star or a makeup of multiple. If it is, the team estimates that it would be at least 50 times the mass of our Sun and millions of times as bright, placing it among the most massive stars known.
Read the research paper in full in the journal Nature.
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Find out more about Dr Mahler.