The Most Distant and Earliest Galaxies in the Universe Spotted with Hubble

First Posted: Sep 09, 2015 02:56 PM EDT

Astronomers have officially spotted some of the earliest galaxies in the universe. They've generated the most accurate statistical description yet of faint, early galaxies as they existed in the universe just 500 million years after the Big Bang.

In this latest study, the researchers used a new statistical method to analyze Hubble Space Telescope data captured during lengthy sky surveys. The method enabled the scientists to parse out signals from the noise in Hubble's deep-sky images, providing the first estimate of the number of small, primordial galaxies in the early universe. The researchers actually concluded that there are close to 10 times more of these galaxies than were previously detected in deep Hubble surveys.

The time period under investigation is known as the "epoch of reionization." This came after the Big Bang and was a few hundred million years in which the universe was dominated by photon-absorbing neutral hydrogen. It was characterized by a phase transition of hydrogen gas due to the accelerated process of star and galaxy formation.

"It's the furthest back you can study with the Hubble Space Telescope," said Katron Mitchell-Wynne, lead author of the new study, in a news release.

In this latest study, the researchers focused on the pixels between galaxies and stars. They separated noise from the faint signal associated with the first galaxies. In the end, they confirmed signals that took place from early points in the universe.

"This is a very exciting finding," said Henry C. Ferguson, one of the researchers, in a news release. "It's the first time that we've been able to convincingly measure this subtle signature of early galaxies with Hubble, giving us a firmer handle on what to look for when the James Webb Space Telescope launches a few years from now."

The findings are published in the journal Nature Communications.

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