An international team of astronomers say they have glimpsed the earliest galaxy yet, a smudge of light from nearly 13.2 billion years ago — a time when the cosmos was a far lonelier place. The research has not been confirmed, and some astronomers are skeptical. The new findings are based on an image from the Hubble Space Telescope. The scientists calculate the newfound galaxy dates to just 480 million years after the Big Bang.
That would trump last fall’s announcement by a French team who said they found a galaxy from about 600 million years after the Big Bang. That discovery also is not universally accepted and one of the skeptics is the co-author of the latest paper. Even more interesting than the advanced age of the newly discovered galaxy is the absence of other similarly aged bright galaxies. That indicates that star formation during that point in the universe’s early childhood was happening at a rate 10 times slower than it was millions of years later, said study co-author Garth Illingworth of the University of California Santa Cruz. However, other astronomers have their doubts about this discovery. Richard Ellis at the California Institute of Technology is troubled because Illingworth’s team originally found three 13.2 billion-year-old galaxies and then withdrew their original study.
The authors then came up with an entirely different galaxy, so all that switching “makes it difficult to believe,” he said. Illingworth said originally he and colleagues confused what may have been real light from billions of years ago and background “noise” from the process of looking so far away, so they re-did the study. He said they then found the new galaxy and saw that it was more likely to be real than the previous ones – Dailytimes