Its record-holding galaxy is 32 billion light-years away, in a Universe that’s only 13.8 billion years old.
On April 24, 2020, humanity celebrates the 30th anniversary of NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.
No optical observatory has peered farther into the depths of the distant Universe.
Yet even Hubble must reckon with certain fundamental limits.
Hubble can only observe ultraviolet, visible, and near-infrared light; longer wavelengths are undetectable.
Consequently, the expansion of the Universe stretches light’s wavelength, fundamentally limiting Hubble’s vision.
Even with deep-field imaging, Hubble’s observations can only go so faint.
With a little serendipity, however, gravitational lensing — where foreground masses bend and magnify background light — provides enhancements.
Furthermore, beyond a certain, early point, the Universe is filled with light-blocking neutral atoms.
In 2016, Hubble overcame all these obstacles to shatter the cosmic distance record.
The unprecedented galaxy, GN-z11, is visible from 13.4 billion years ago: when the Universe was 3% its present age.
Factoring in the expanding Universe, it’s presently 32 billion light-years away.
GN-z11’s light was only perceptible in Hubble’s longest-wavelength infrared bands.
It was gravitationally lensed, providing a critical brightness enhancement.
And it was favorably located along an unlikely, mostly reionized line-of-sight.
With superior capabilities across the board, NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will someday surpass this record.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals, and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.