NASA Space Place – Hubble Shatters The Cosmic Record For Most Distant Galaxy

Poster’s Note: One of the many under-appreciated aspects of NASA is the extent to which it publishes quality science content for children and Ph.D.’s alike. NASA Space Place has been providing general audience articles for quite some time that are freely available for download and republishing. Your tax dollars help promote science! The following article was provided for reprinting in April, 2016.

By Dr. Ethan Siegel

2013february2_spaceplaceThe farther away you look in the distant universe, the harder it is to see what’s out there. This isn’t simply because more distant objects appear fainter, although that’s true. It isn’t because the universe is expanding, and so the light has farther to go before it reaches you, although that’s true, too. The reality is that if you built the largest optical telescope you could imagine — even one that was the size of an entire planet — you still wouldn’t see the new cosmic record-holder that Hubble just discovered: galaxy GN-z11, whose light traveled for 13.4 billion years, or 97% the age of the universe, before finally reaching our eyes.

There were two special coincidences that had to line up for Hubble to find this: one was a remarkable technical achievement, while the other was pure luck. By extending Hubble’s vision away from the ultraviolet and optical and into the infrared, past 800 nanometers all the way out to 1.6 microns, Hubble became sensitive to light that was severely stretched and redshifted by the expansion of the universe. The most energetic light that hot, young, newly forming stars produce is the Lyman-α line, which is produced at an ultraviolet wavelength of just 121.567 nanometers. But at high redshifts, that line passed not just into the visible but all the way through to the infrared, and for the newly discovered galaxy, GN-z11, its whopping redshift of 11.1 pushed that line all the way out to 1471 nanometers, more than double the limit of visible light!

Hubble itself did the follow-up spectroscopic observations to confirm the existence of this galaxy, but it also got lucky: the only reason this light was visible is because the region of space between this galaxy and our eyes is mostly ionized, which isn’t true of most locations in the universe at this early time! A redshift of 11.1 corresponds to just 400 million years after the Big Bang, and the hot radiation from young stars doesn’t ionize the majority of the universe until 550 million years have passed. In most directions, this galaxy would be invisible, as the neutral gas would block this light, the same way the light from the center of our galaxy is blocked by the dust lanes in the galactic plane. To see farther back, to the universe’s first true galaxies, it will take the James Webb Space Telescope. Webb’s infrared eyes are much less sensitive to the light-extinction caused by neutral gas than instruments like Hubble. Webb may reach back to a redshift of 15 or even 20 or more, and discover the true answer to one of the universe’s greatest mysteries: when the first galaxies came into existence!

This article was provided by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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Caption: (top); NASA, ESA, P. Oesch (Yale University), G. Brammer (STScI), P. van Dokkum (Yale University), and G. Illingworth (University of California, Santa Cruz) (bottom), of the galaxy GN-z11, the most distant and highest-redshifted galaxy ever discovered and spectroscopically confirmed thus far.

About NASA Space Place

With articles, activities, crafts, games, and lesson plans, NASA Space Place encourages everyone to get excited about science and technology. Visit spaceplace.nasa.gov (facebook|twitter) to explore space and Earth science!

CNYO Spring 2016 Observing Session At Beaver Lake Nature Center On Thursday, April 28th (Raindate: May 5th)

FINAL UPDATE: 4 May – 2:00 p.m. – The weather for tomorrow night is predicted to be lousy for observing, so we’re making the official call early to CANCEL tomorrow night’s event at Beaver Lake Nature Center. Stay tuned for an event announcement about The Mercury Transit happening on May 9th!

UPDATE: 28 April – 2:00 p.m. – Sadly, the cloud cover is not agreeable for observing tonight (as also reported by Glenn Coin at syracuse.com), so we are pushing the observing session off to next Thursday, May 5th. Stay tuned!

UPDATE: 28 April – 10:00 a.m. – The sky conditions for tonight are not looking good for observing. We’ll make a final call around 2:00 p.m. and, if necessary, plan for next Thursday instead.

H/T to Glenn Coin for posting the announcement to syracuse.com (and various related pick-up CNY sites).

Greetings, fellow astrophiles!

The time has come again to make our seasonal Thursday night trek [beaver lake announcement; meetup.com event] to the Beaver Lake parking lot for views of the Nighttime Spring Sky. For 2016, we’ve the added bonus of having prime planetary viewing for the entire session, featuring Mercury to our West just after sunset (and even before if Bob Piekiel’s GOTO scope is ready) and Jupiter, biting at the feet of Leo the Lion, in the sky throughout – having reached opposition in early March.

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Views from the 2006 Transit of Mercury. Photo from nationalgeographic.com

Mercury will be giving us a double-dose of observing in the next few weeks as we approach its Transit on the morning of May 9th (for which Bob Piekiel is hosting a special (and unusually early!) event at Baltimore Woods from 8 to 10 a.m. On Monday, May 9th – event notice to follow!). For those who managed a view of the Transit of Venus in 2012, this is your chance to say you saw the only two planetary Transits you can from Earth – you’ll then have to move to Mars to try to make any kind of inferior planet trifecta.


Google map for Beaver Lake Nature Center. Click to get directions.

LeoTripletHunterWilsonThe Thursday session at Beaver Lake will be our last chance to see any sign of the Orion Nebula (and it will be heroic observing at that, given how close to the tree line it may be by the time it’s dark enough), but M13 in Hercules, the Leo Triplet (shown at right – and they will not look this good from Beaver Lake! Image from wikipedia.org), several other notable Messier Objects, and whatever satellites happen to fly over will be on hand to keep the observing and conversation going.

By the usual ending time for the event, the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra will just be rising above the Northeastern skyline, striking the chord to herald the soon-approaching return of Summer Skies and our views into the heart of our Milky Way Galaxy.

Girls Summit 2016 – STEM Career Orientation Day, 7 May 2016

From the TACNY email list – see www.ywca-syracuse.org/site/c.evKSIdOUIiJaH/b.8093969/k.9C0C/Girls_Summit_2016.htm for registration information – and I’m assuming they mean Friday, April 22nd.

What: Girls Summit is a STEM Career Orientation day that aims to:

(1) spark the spirit, trigger the imagination and encourage young women to consider new and exciting career opportunities

(2) Increase a girl’s interest in math, science and technology and in sticking with school

(3) Provide girls with opportunities to meet and form personal contacts with women working in non- traditional fields

(4) provide hands-on learning about alternative careers in a format that is committed to benefiting girls of all ethnicities, races, religions and abilities.

When: The event will be held on Saturday, May 7th from 9:00am to 3:30pm (PRE-REGISTER BY FRIDAY APRIL 25TH)

Where: (SUNY College of Environmental Science and ForestryMarshall Hall)

How Much: $5.00

For additional information please contact Flavia Rey de Castro, Program Director, at flaviarcywca@centralny.twcbc.com or at 315-424-0040

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Click for a larger view.