Scientists are astonished by something they’ve discovered far, far away, something that would normally be impossible for us to see.
An incredible discovery thanks to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has the scientific world talking this weekend. Scientists have used a “natural magnifying glass” to sharpen some images that were captured by the telescope, and they have discovered a distant, hidden galaxy that totally contradicts what we understand about early star formation.
Hubble was able to use a massive galaxy cluster to get images 10 times sharper than what the telescope is typically capable of. That enabled scientists to snap images of a galaxy that formed just 2.7 billion years after the Big Bang, and it throws into question previous theories that suggested such star-forming regions were very large, when in fact this one was just 200 to 300 light years across, about a tenth of what scientists expected.
Perhaps the way Hubble found this star-forming knot is as fascinating as the find itself. Gravitational lenses refer to massive objects that bend the light that passes through them into an arc shape, enabling us to see something far in the distant we wouldn’t normally be able to see. This particular cluster was magnified about 30 times.
“IC 342 is a challenging cosmic target. Although it is bright, the galaxy sits near the equator of the Milky Way’s galactic disk, where the sky is thick with glowing cosmic gas, bright stars, and dark, obscuring dust,” the NASA statement reads. “In order for astronomers to see the intricate spiral structure of IC 342, they must gaze through a large amount of material contained within our own galaxy — no easy feat! As a result IC 342 is relatively difficult to spot and image, giving rise to its intriguing nickname: the “Hidden Galaxy.”
“Located very close (in astronomical terms) to the Milky Way, this sweeping spiral galaxy would be among the brightest in the sky were it not for its dust-obscured location. The galaxy is very active, as indicated by the range of colors visible in this NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image, depicting the very central region of the galaxy.”