The most ancient and distant galaxy yet observed — the light from which traveled 13.3 billion years to reach Earth — has been pinpointed by scientists taking an unprecedentedly deep look through the Hubble Space Telescope, NASA announced on Thursday.
The galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, is tiny by comparison to most of the galaxies we’re more familiar with, including our own Milky Way.
“It’s less than a percent of the Milky Way in terms of its diameter and its mass,” said Dan Coe, the astronomer at the multi-institution Space Telescope Science Institute, who first discovered the galaxy back in February 2012, in a phone interview with TPM on Thursday.
In fact, as NASA notes in its press release on the news, MACS0647-JD is just 600 light years wide, while the Milky Way is 150,000 light years across. The ancient galaxy is small even by the standards of other dwarf galaxies, which are typically on the order of 2,000 light years across.
The ancient galaxy appears to have been spawned just 420 million years after the Big Bang is theorized to have occurred or earlier, an incredibly short period in cosmic time.
In the time it has taken the light from that galaxy to get here — 13.3 billion years — that cluster of stars could have expanded to be the size of our own galaxy, planets could have formed, life could have begun, evolved, become sentient; civilizations could have begun, flourished, faded, and died away; all in the time it took for those photons to reach the Hubble telescope. And we’ll never know.
But what an amazing journey nonetheless.