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Astronomers claim earliest galaxy yet from Hubble

Jan 26, 2011 2:26:00 PM - thestate.com
An international team of astronomers say they've glimpsed the earliest galaxy yet, a smudge of light from nearly 13.2 billion years ago - a time when the cosmos was a far lonelier place.

The research hasn't been confirmed, and some astronomers are skeptical. The new findings are based on an image from the Hubble Space Telescope and are published in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. The scientists calculate the new-found galaxy dates to just 480 million years after the Big Bang.

That would trump last fall's announcement by a French team who said they found a galaxy from about 600 million years after the Big Bang. That discovery also is not universally accepted and one of the skeptics is the co-author of the latest paper.

Even more interesting than the advanced age of the newly discovered galaxy is the absence of other similarly aged bright galaxies. That indicates that star formation during that point in the universe's early childhood was happening at a rate 10 times slower than it was millions of years later, said study co-author Garth Illingworth of the University of California Santa Cruz.

Illingworth described what the cosmos might look like at that time period when the universe was smaller and the stars bluer and dimmer.

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