Astronomers have dreamed of unravelling the deepest secrets and looking at the furthest celestial bodies in our cosmology. Now, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has successfully seen the furthest individual star ever observed!
Hubble has discovered the light of a star that lived inside the first billion years of the universe’s estimated beginning. This astronomical distance object is so far away that it took 12.9 billion years for its light to reach Earth! NASA says we should not confuse this star with Methuselah, the oldest star in the universe. It is a figure that has long perplexed scientists since it contradicts the universe’s estimated age.
A morning star from the beginning
Earendel, which means “dawn star” in Old English, has been given to the newly found star. The only other little things that we have been able to view at such a great distance of stars as Earendel’s appear to be are star clusters trapped inside early galaxies.
Earendel appeared to us at a point in time when the cosmos was only 7% of its present age. Are you familiar with the Doppler Effect from high school? According to NASA, the previous single-star record holder (nicknamed Icarus) existed at redshift 1.5 when the universe was around 4 billion years old or 30% of its present age.
“We could not accept it at first because it was so much farther out than the most distant, loftiest redshift star,” said the paper’s lead author, astronomer Brian Welch of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. But, if such is the case, how did astronomers discover Earendel in the first place?
The stars aligned to make this discovery feasible
Earendel has a minimum of 50 times the mass of our Sun and is millions of times brighter. We would not have been able to view it at such a large distance if it were not for a galaxy cluster in the way.
This close-up shows the distant star astronomy of Earendel along with a ripple in space-time (dotted line). It amplifies it to the point that it can be seen from such a great distance—nearly 13 billion light-years away. A cluster of stars can be seen on both sides of the magnification line, which is mirrored on both sides of the magnification line.
The bulk of a massive galaxy cluster lying between Hubble and Earendel causes distortion and amplification. The galaxy cluster’s mass is so large that it warps the fabric of space, and gazes through it.
After its bulk bent the fabric of space, this massive cluster, known as WHL0137-08, generated a strong natural magnifying glass. The light from distant objects behind it intensified, causing Earendel to stand out from the overall glow of its home galaxy.
This effect is comparable to how the ripples on the top of a swimming pool function as lenses. It forms patterns of dazzling light on the pool’s bottom on a sunny day, according to NASA.
Astronomers, after observing news, predict that Earendel will stay greatly amplified for many years to come.
Taking Webb further than ever
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which has a high sensitivity to infrared radiation, will soon be able to detect the star, which will let us learn more about it. “We anticipate confirming Earendel is a star and measuring its brightness and temperature with Webb,” research co-author Dan Coe stated. This points to Earendel being an uncommon, big, metal-poor star.”
Earendel existed before successive generations of stars filled the galaxy with heavy elements, so its composition is undoubtedly intriguing.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which will launch in December 2021, is already planning scientific investigations. The authors said in the report that its optics are sharper than Hubble’s, and should be able to validate their conclusion. The report says that Earendel is a single star system rather than a cluster of star systems grouped. They are also looking to figure out if Earendel was a single star or part of a binary system. And also want to discover more about the star’s temperature and mass.
“Usually, complete galaxies look as tiny blurs at these distances, with the light from millions of stars mixing,” Welch explained. “Gravitational lensing enlarged and distorted the galaxy that hosted this star, changing it into the Sunrise Arc, a long-lasting semi-circular arc dubbed.”
The team is observing Earendel and measuring its chemical makeup using the recently launched James Webb Space Telescope. And it can provide information about the components that made up our cosmos at its beginning.
“Earendel exists from so long ago that it is plausible that the stars we see now may not have all of the same fundamental elements,” Welch noted. “Exploring Earendel will open a window into a moment in the cosmos that we do not know about but that led to all we know today.”