Astrophysicists have always had problems discerning the exact age of the universe, dating back to Hubble’s realization that all of space (time) was expanding at an accelerating rate. The problem first arose after astronomers started finding galaxies that were older than the current tentative limit, and had to revise the lower age from a starting point of about 12 billion years.
Recently, that lower limit has been smashed with the discovery of galaxy Z8-GND-5296 by the formidable and ever-watchful eyes of the Hubble Space Telescope, in tandem with the larger optics of the earth-bound Keck Observatory based near the summit of Mauna Kea in Hawaii. This galaxy is so far away in outer space, that the light caught by Hubble started traveling in our direction over 13 billion years ago. That means Z8-GND-5296 was born just 700 million years after the most certain estimates of the inception of our universe into space via the Big Bang.
Astronomers noted the importance of being able to see galaxies at such incredible distances; it is equivalent to looking back in time because we aren’t seeing the galaxy as it is now, but rather as it was way back then (in fact, it may no longer exist at this very moment at its position in space-time). “This galaxy we’re seeing was [around] 8 billion years before our sun was even born and of course much longer after that until life came around,” noted lead astronomer Dr. Steve Finkelstein, of the University of Texas at Austin.
It is hoped that the discovery of galaxy Z8-GND-5296 can aid astronomers in many ways, such as possibly helping us understand dark energy better, which is assumed to be a staple of the very origins of the universe. As old as galaxy Z8-GND-5296 is, there is some evidence that it isn’t the oldest galaxy around – it contains very heavy elements, which can only be formed through nuclear processes and suggests that there were much older stars that exploded to seed its formation. Furthermore, this discovery should help astronomers better explore galactic evolution through the ages.