NASA Space Telescopes Spot the Faintest Object Ever

It took a combination of the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes to notice what looks to be an ancient proto-galaxy.

NASA, ESA, and L. Infante (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile)

Astronomers have combined the viewing power of the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to find what is believed to be the faintest object ever spotted in the early universe.

Likely existing about 400 million years after the Big Bang (almost 14 billion years ago) it has been named “Tayna” by the international team of space scientists responsible for the discovery (Tayna meaning “first-born” in the Aymaran language). First described in a December 2 article published in The Astrophysical Journal, those aforementioned starwatchers describe the entity as “likely the faintest…object known to date.”

It’s not the most distant item ever discovered—as NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble telescopes have been previously combined to locate galaxies even further away—but Tayna represents a smaller sort of developing galaxy that up until this discovery had evaded detection. The team responsible feels that this dim object may be representative of what once existed in the early universe, the growing core of a star-producing, still-developing galaxy.

Its detection was only possible due to a cluster of galaxies known as MACS J0416.1-2403. Approximately 4 billion light-years away (and possibly equal in weight to a million billion times our sun), this monstrous gathering naturally bends and magnifies the light of objects located remotely behind — an effect known as “gravitational lensing” — revealing Tayna for the first time.

Observers hope that this discovery is indicative of what will be revealed by the James Webb Space Telescope—the successor to Hubble and Spitzer—scheduled to launch in October of 2018. Ray Villard, News Director for the Space Telescope Science Institute, tells Inverse: “Thanks to the power of gravitational lensing we got a peek at an example of underlying population of compact, presumably embryonic galaxies that existed in the very early days of the universe. These objects will be routinely visible with Hubble’s successor, the Webb Space Telescope to be launched later this decade.”