Washington. The Hubble Space Telescope detected the most distant star ever observed, named Earendel, whose light traveled for 12.9 billion years to reach us.
Scientists estimate that its mass is at least 50 times that of our Sun and millions of times brighter than it.
The star that held the previous record had also been observed by Hubble, in 2018, but existed in a universe that was then 4 billion years old, against Earendel’s 900 million.
The discovery was published this Wednesday in the prestigious scientific journal Nature.
“At first, we almost didn’t believe it,” study lead author Brian Welch of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore said in a statement.
It was Welch who had the privilege of naming this star: Earendel means “morning star” in Old English.
The star “existed so long ago that it might not have been composed of the same raw materials as the stars that surround us today,” the researcher explained.
“Studying Earendel will provide a window into a period of the Universe that we are not familiar with, but which led to everything we know today,” he added.
This star will be a main object of study for the new James Webb Space Telescope, which is currently undergoing calibration in space. James Webb will observe it this year, the European Space Agency (ESA), which operates the telescope with NASA, said in a statement.
Unlike Hubble, which has a small infrared capability, James Webb will only operate at these wavelengths, allowing you to go even further back in time.
Until now, at that distance, only groups of stars could be observed, but it was not possible to distinguish a particular star.
Earendel had a cosmic help: a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. A cluster of galaxies, located between us and the star, acts as a magnifying glass that amplifies the light of the object.
The ESA compares this effect to ripples on the surface of water, which in good weather can create amplified beams of light on the floor of a swimming pool. This strange alignment should last for years, according to astronomers.
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