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29 Aug 2014

Our top image – 11 billion years in the making

Posted on August 29, 2014 by

If you work in science PR, you’ll know how hard it is to get Joe Public interested in research papers and discoveries, no matter how ground-breaking or life-changing they might be.

Which explains why you won’t have seen our image of the week on the front page of the Daily Mail or being talked about on Good Morning Britain – even though it’s a gazillion times more significant than Brangelina tying the knot or the latest from the Great British Walk-Off.

Unless you’ve a PhD in astronomy, the image below might not raise an eyebrow, but the story behind it should make your head spin.

Distant galaxy core in the Hubble GOODS North fieldAs revealed this week in a paper published in Nature magazine, that fairly ordinary-looking orange dot highlighted in the zoomed-in box above is, remarkably, the birth of a completely new galaxy, albeit a birth that took place around 11 billion years ago. That’s how long it’s taken for the light from this galaxy to reach us and for us to be able to see this image (unfortunately there’s no way for the boffins to watch it on catch-up).

Anyhow, the clever people with white coats and telescopes reckon this new galaxy – which they’ve dubbed ‘Sparky’ – is producing around 300 new stars every year, compared to the 10 or so created by our own Milky Way galaxy. And that’s despite Sparky being only a small fraction of the size of the Milky Way.

The team used images from the Hubble telescope to compute its size, and far-infrared images from other deep-space telescopes to work out how fast it’s creating stars. Which all sounds easy peasy, but they probably have a calculator the size of Chelmsford.

Here at Aberfield we won’t even pretend we understand the science behind it, but just the thought that we’re looking at the birth of a galaxy that pre-dates Earth by about six BILLION years is enough for us.

However, if your physics knowledge goes a bit beyond a GCSE and The Sky at Night then you might want to check out the press release published by Yale University.

Not that the press release answers the most important question: have they found any aliens yet?

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