WASHINGTON - NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope has announced an extraordinary new benchmark: the detection of the farthest individual star to date.
"We’ve certainly seen galaxies further away, but that is the new record-holder for the most distanced star that we know of," NASA astronomer Jane Rigby told FOX Television Stations Group.
The find is a huge leap further back in time from the previous single-star record holder, detected by Hubble in 2018.
NASA announces discovery
According to the space agency, the newly detected star is so far away that its light has taken 12.9 billion years to reach Earth. This means the star existed within the first billion years after the universe’s birth in the big bang.
Rigby told FOX she was "initially skeptical" of the discovery — which required Hubble’s power and magnification to make the detection possible — but found it to be the most sensible explanation.
"Normally this star would be way too faint to see with Hubble," Rigby continued, adding, "But, you have that kind of magnification factor and it becomes possible."
The star nicknamed Earendel
Astronomer Brian Welch of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and the lead author of the paper describing the discovery, nicknamed the star "Earendel" which means "morning star" in Old English. The paper was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
The research team estimates that Earendel is at least 50 times the mass of our Sun and millions of times as bright, rivaling the most massive stars known.
Astronomers expect that Earendel will remain highly magnified for years to come. It will be observed by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which launched in December.
But, Earendel is technically long gone, according to NASA.
"Those kinds of stars are rare," Rigby noted. "They live fast and die young. They usually only last a couple of million years and then they explode."
The future of Earendel, other discoveries
NASA says this discovery holds promise for opening up an uncharted era of very early star formation.
"Earendel existed so long ago that it may not have had all the same raw materials as the stars around us today," Welch explained. "Studying Earendel will be a window into an era of the universe that we are unfamiliar with, but that led to everything we do know. It’s like we’ve been reading a really interesting book, but we started with the second chapter, and now we will have a chance to see how it all got started," Welch said in a press release Wednesday.
Rigby concluded of the discovery, "Really neat stuff is out there if we bother to go see it."
US astronaut Mark Vande Hei returns to Earth after record-long spaceflight
This news comes on the same day a NASA astronaut caught a Russian ride back to Earth on Wednesday after a U.S. record 355 days at the International Space Station.
Mark Vande Hei landed in a Soyuz capsule in Kazakhstan alongside the Russian Space Agency’s Pyotr Dubrov, who also spent the past year in space, and Anton Shkaplerov.