NASA is getting ready to go hunting — not for a white whale, but for a jellyfish.
In a statement released last week, the agency announced its plans to investigate the distant galaxy ESO 137-001 once it launches its James Webb Space Telescope. The galaxy has earned its "jellyfish" nickname from the long "ribbons of young stars" that trail behind it as it makes its way through the cosmos, looking like "cosmic tentacles," NASA explained.
While it makes for a stunning picture, scientists aren't sure what enables the galaxy to form stars in such a manner. It's been a mystery since we first spotted ESO 137-001 using the Hubble Space Telescope and Chandra X-ray Observatory in 2014 — which is why, once the Webb telescope launches, it will take a closer look at the mysterious galactic cephalopod.
With a long trail of newly-forming stars and hot gases that are slowly leaking out of the galaxy, scientists have a rare opportunity to find out what's causing the leak, Spacereported. This investigation could give us clues about how new stars form, and whether producing too many new stars can actually cause a galaxy to die.
The James Webb Space Telescope, which has experienced setbacks and delays already, is expected to launch in 2021. It will be able to take photographs of ESO 137-001 with much better resolution, and will observe more wavelengths of light to get more information about the galaxy.
Star light, star not-so-bright, first star I see two-thirds-of-the-way-across-the-universe tonight? Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have spotted the farthest known star, which is located approximately 9 billion light years away from Earth, Science News reports. Previously, the farthest observed star was a mere 55 million light years away.
Patrick Kelly of the University of California, Berkeley, stumbled upon the star when he was observing a galaxy cluster:
In April and May 2016, Kelly and his team saw a mysteriously fluctuating point of light in the galaxy cluster's vicinity.
Follow-up images and analyses, posted June 30 at arXiv.org, showed that light is probably from a single bright blue star that coincidentally was behind the galaxy cluster, aligned along Hubble's line of sight. The star is visible because the galaxy cluster's gravity bent spacetime around the cluster, making it act like a cosmic magnifying glass. [Science News]
With a little more calculation, the researchers realized the light from the star had to zip through a whole 65 percent of the entire universe before it could be seen by eyeballs on Earth, a journey that takes about nine billion years — more than half the age of the universe itself, which is estimated to be 13.8 billion years old, Science News adds. Some additional perspective from Syfy Wire: Nine billion light years is more than a million times farther than any star you can possibly see with your naked eye. Jeva Lange