NASA's Hubble Finds the Most Distant Star Ever Seen - Earendel

NASA's Hubble Finds the Most Distant Star Ever Seen - Earendel

According to a recent study published in Nature, the Hubble Space Telescope imaged the most distant star ever seen. The supersized star, which almost certainly died in a fiery explosion nearly 13 billion years ago, was identified by astronomers thanks to a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.

Scientists named the star Earendel, which means "morning star." According to the team led by astronomer Brian Welch of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, this star has a mass at least 50 times that of the Sun and a brightness millions of times that of the Sun.

A few years ago, Hubble caught a glimpse of another extremely distant star called Icarus, which gazed when the universe was 9.5 billion years old, or 30 percent of its current age. Earendel, on the other hand, breaks Icarus' record. Earendel lived approximately 12.9 billion years ago when the universe was only 7 percent its current age.

According to NASA, the discovery was made using data from Hubble's RELICS (Reionisation Lensing Cluster Survey) program and a technique known as 'gravitational lensing.

NASA revealed that even such a brilliant, very high-mass star would be impossible to see at such a great distance without the natural magnification provided by WHL0137-08, a massive galaxy cluster located between Earendel and us. The galaxy cluster's mass warps the fabric of space, creating a powerful natural magnifying glass that distorts and greatly amplifies light from distant objects behind it.

"Normally, at these distances, entire galaxies look like small smudges, with the light from millions of stars blending together," Welch explained. "The galaxy hosting this star has been magnified and distorted by gravitational lensing into a long crescent that we named the Sunrise Arc."

The star Earendel appears directly on, or extremely close to, a ripple in the fabric of space due to a rare alignment with the magnifying galaxy cluster. This ripple, known as a "caustic" in optics, provides maximum magnification and brightening.

Because of this caustic, the star Earendel stands out from the general glow of its home galaxy. Its radiance is magnified a thousand times or more. At the moment, astronomers are unable to determine whether Earendel is a binary star, even though most massive stars have at least one smaller companion star.

Hubble senior project scientist Jennifer Wiseman believes that as we study it more, we'll learn how it was formed, what it's made of, and begin understanding how the earliest stars in the universe contributed to their galaxies and subsequent generations of stars like our own Sun.

Astronomers will be fascinated by Earendel's composition because it formed before the universe was filled with the heavy elements produced by successive generations of massive stars.

"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," said Welch in a press statement. "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 also added, "With Webb, we may see stars even farther than Earendel, which would be incredibly exciting. We'll go as far back as we can. I would love to see Webb break Earendel's distance record."

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