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Astronomers using Keck find most-distant galaxy, a prolific star-former

By Star-Advertiser staff

LAST UPDATED: 1:41 a.m. HST, Oct 24, 2013

The most distant galaxy so far detected is the focus of studies at the Keck Observatory on Mauna Kea.

The galaxy, dubbed z8_GND_5296, is 13.1 billion years old, formed just 700 million years after the Big Bang, scientists reported Wednesday.

A team led by University of Texas at Austin astronomer Steven Finkelstein discovered the galaxy using an instrument called MOSFIRE on the Keck I Telescope. Their findings were published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

During their observations, "we get a glimpse of conditions when the universe was only about 5 percent of its current age of 13.8 billion years," said Casey Papovich of Texas A&M University, second author of the study, in a statement.

Astronomers can study how galaxies evolve because light travels at a finite speed, about 186,000 miles per second. So distant objects appear as they did in the past.

"We want to study very distant galaxies to learn how they change with time," Finkelstein said. "This helps us understand how the Milky Way came to be."

The galaxy, about 40,000 years older than the previous record-holder -- perched in the same part of the sky, is producing stars at a rate 150 times that of the Milky Way, the astronomers said. 

"So we're learning something about the distant universe," Finkelstein said. "There are way more regions of very high star formation than we previously thought. ... There must be a decent number of them if we happen to find two in the same area of the sky."

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