Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Hubble Looks Back in Time -- 13.2 Billion Years

This has got to be a golden age for deep-space exploration and discovery, and yet it's really just baby steps by us earth-bound monkeys.

Barely a day passes without a headline that makes space geeks like me salivate. Five new planets discovered. Private space ship makes successful test run. And so on.

Today's gobstopper was that "Hubble peers back 13.2 billion years, finds 'primordial' galaxies," to quote CNN's headline. Basically, the deeper in space Hubble looks, the further back in time it is looking. It's a time machine, of a sort. Water found on the moon (okay, that's near-space; still ...).

"These newly found objects are crucial to understanding the evolutionary link between the birth of the first stars, the formation of the first galaxies, and the sequence of evolutionary events that resulted in the assembly of our Milky Way and the other 'mature' elliptical and majestic spiral galaxies in today's universe," in the words of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

And this:
Rychard Bouwens of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of Illingworth's team and leader of a paper on the striking properties of these galaxies, says that, "the faintest galaxies are now showing signs of linkage to their origins from the first stars. They are so blue that they must be extremely deficient in heavy elements, thus representing a population that has nearly primordial characteristics."
James Dunlop of the University of Edinburgh, agrees. "These galaxies could have roots stretching into an earlier population of stars. There must be a substantial component of galaxies beyond Hubble's detection limit."
This is as cool as a good science fiction novel. I feel Iain M. Banks-ish. Let the headlines keep coming.
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