The most distant star ever discovered, and it’s really really old.
Hubble Space Telescope.
A new star has been discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been turning up amazing pictures of space for 32 years. The new star is called Earendel, a name that means “morning star”.
Earendel is a primordial star that existed in an ancient time – soon after the Big-Bang explosion that our universe came from 13.7 billion years ago. By comparison our earth is 4.6 billion years old, most scientists agree.
The astronomers working the Hubble Telescope know that Earendel is really old by analyzing the spectrum of light from the star. The spectrum of white light that we know as a rainbow is a spread of colors from red to violet. Older stars or galaxies are further away from us, and their light has taken a longer time to travel all the way to reach Earth.
Icarus was the previous record-holder for the most distant star.
Icarus existed 9.4 billion years ago, that is 4.3 billion years after the Big-Bang. The light from Icarus took 9.4 billion years to reach Earth.
The closest star to Earth is Alpha Centauri, which is actually a group of three stars about 4.4 light-years from Earth. One light-year is the distance light travels in 1 year – about 6 trillion miles. So Alpha Centauri is 4.4 times as far, or 26 trillion miles away.
The numbers are mind-boggling, but wait…. it gets even more curious.
The new star called Earendel.
The new star existed about 12.7 billion years ago, which means about 1 billion years after the Big-Bang. So it was one of the earliest stars to have formed in our universe. The light from Earendel took 12.7 billion years to reach Earth.
Earendel must have existed soon after the “age of darkness” when there weren’t any stars or galaxies at all (Figure 1). Earendel existed about the time when the first galaxies were forming.
The Hubble Space Telescope succeeded in finding this ultra-faint needle in a haystack, but how big is the haystack?
There are 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone (the Milky Way galaxy) – and this is hard to imagine.
But there are approximately 200 billion trillion stars in the entire universe – and this is unfathomable.
Plus the fact that light from a star so far away is extremely faint. So how did Hubble pull this off?
Earendel is bigger and brighter than our sun — perhaps 50 times more massive and maybe 10 million times brighter. But that’s not the reason — the star is much too far away for that to make any difference.
It takes a special trick. The key comes from Einstein’s magnificent work in discovering that light can be bent by gravity. If a beam of light from a star passes close to a galaxy, the gravity force of the galaxy can pull the light off course.
If a beam of light passes through a cluster of galaxies, these galaxies can pull together and act as a magnifying glass. In other words, Hubble could see more distant objects more clearly.
Hubble has looked around the night sky and discovered about 40 directions that would magnify stars and galaxies that lay beyond.
One galaxy that was magnified led to an arc-shaped strip as in Figure 2. When a PhD student called Brian Welch examined this strip closely, he found a huge star in the middle that came to be called Earendel (see small white circle in Figure 2). The star was magnified thousands of times.
Is it a star or a black hole or…?
Welch and colleagues are not certain if it’s a single star or perhaps a small black hole surrounded by a swirling disk of gas and dust. Its mass is 50 times our sun’s mass and is up to 10 million times brighter. The new James Webb Space Telescope will help to decide hopefully.
This discovery opens up a new window on the universe, in a time and place that is incredibly hard to observe and measure – close to the Big-Bang that was so long ago and so far away.
The astronomers and cosmologists, blessed with impressive brainpower, are probing the origin of the universe, the origin of God’s creation, for all of us to see and be inspired.
BLOG TOPICS: I write in-depth blogs about a mix of topics: Science and Energy, Inspiration and Hope, Health and Hiking.
The Gray Nomad ….. Probing the creation of the universe. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
[Book of Genesis, chapter 1]
Ian…thank you for sharing about this new discovery of a very old star. This again points us to the realization of our great Creator God who is far beyond anything we can ever imagine.
Really fascinating, Ian!