Astronomers see furthest back in time ever

A really long time ago in a galaxy really far away

Astronomers seemingly have the coolest job ever. They get to gaze into the depths of space at stars and black holes and try to find life bearing planets and all other manner of inspiring stuff. It’s just a shame they are such an unimaginative bunch.

This picture is of a galaxy 13 billion light years away. Which also means that we are looking at the universe 13 billion years ago. Or to put it another way, the universe as it was when it was just 840 million years old (give or take a day). Which is pretty damned impressive. Astronomers have learnt all sorts of things like: back then stuff was really red. Also it was just hydrogen and then after a mere 200 million years it was, er, other elements too after a few suns had had a go at it. Or something. It’s all very fascinating and can be read about here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-15275545

Of course the reality of looking for this sort of thing requires a certain type mind. One that is happy to work up a mountain or in a desert for years and going through frame after frame of images looking at tiny dots. When George Lucas thought of ‘A long time a go in a galaxy far, far away…’ his mind filled with space battles, asthmatic bad guys, and princesses with weird hair and no breasts. When astronomers saw this image they studied it for years and then called it UDFy-38135539. (Which coincidentally also sounds like a George Lucas film.) They could have called the Hades zone or something more exciting. The big telescope they used was imaginatively named the VLT which, I kid you not, stands for the Very Large Telescope.

Still, I shouldn’t mock or generalise. I’m sure some of the astronomers are fascinating down the pub. Even if not, they inspire the rest of us with incredible images. The good news is that they will soon be able to look back even further as they are building an even bigger telescope than VLT. Hopefully it will be named the Space Megascope 3000 or something. 

Nope, just checked. It will be called the ELT – Extremely Large Telescope. Still, the rest of can dream.

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