Researcher from Goa discovers furthest galaxy in universe

Light emanating from it takes 13.1 billion years to reach Hubble.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: An Indian American is among the team that has discovered a galaxy located 13.1 billion light-years away, making it the farthest one ever found.

Vithal Tilvi, a post-doctoral research fellow at Texas A&M University, along with two others researchers, discovered the remote galaxy during a two-night stretch of astronomical observation this past April. The three-person team consisted of Steven Finkelstein, an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin and 2011 Hubble Fellow, and graduate student Mimi Song, apart from Tilvi.

The galaxy, which has been given the rather cumbersome name of “z8_GND_5269,” was discovered by Tilvi and his team at the Keck Observatory, which is located near the peak of the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii. To put into perspective just how far away the newly discovered galaxy is, the light emanating from that galaxy takes 13.1 billion years to reach the Hubble Telescope, which circles just above the earth.

The fact that the light takes so long to reach Earth means that the galaxy Tilvi’s team saw is how the galaxy looked 13 billion years ago. Because the accepted estimated age of the universe is 13.7 billion years old, the galaxy gives researchers a way to see how the universe was just 700 million years after its inception at “The Big Bang,” the name given to the cataclysmic event that essentially created the universe and all things contained within it.

The age and distance of the galaxy lends astronomers a wealth of information regarding how old the universe is and how large it may be, which is especially valuable information, considering the commonly accepted notion that the universe is still expanding.

Tilvi is a native of Goa, and attended Goa University. Prior to his current position at Texas A&M, he worked at the national Institute of Oceanography and the National Antarctic Research Center. His paper about z8_GND_5269 – which was written in collaboration with 10 other research institutions around the world, including some in Italy and Israel – will appear in the latest edition of science journal “Nature.”

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