Hubble telescope captures most distant star ever found

For the first time in history, researchers have observed a single star sitting billions of light years from Earth.
By Joseph Scalise | Apr 03, 2018
A rare cosmic alignment has enabled astronomers to capture the most distant normal star on record, according to astudy published in the journalNature Astronomy.

The newly discovered ancient body -- which astronomers found with the Hubble telescope -- sits a staggering 9 billion light years from Earth. That is significant because, while researchers often view galaxies some 100 million light years away, most systems beyond that are extremely difficult to see.

However, a new process known as gravitational lensing -- where researchers look at how light bends around massive galaxy clusters -- allowed the team behind the recent study to look further into space than ever before.

Normal lensing practices typically magnify galaxies by 50 times. However, in the recent study the distant star was magnified by over 2,000.


"You can see individual galaxies out there, but this star is at least 100 times farther away than the next individual star we can study, except for supernova explosions," said lead author Patrick Kelly, a professor at the University of Minnesota, according to Phys.org.

The star -- known as Icarus -- shows off new technology that will one day be used to research the furthest corners of the universe. These observations can provide a rare look at how stars evolve. In fact, this is the first time in history researchers observed a single stable star at such a long distance.

Astronomers first noticed Icarus while analyzing asupernova found in 2014. After seeing how bright the body was, the team analyzed the different light coming off of it and categorized it as a blue supergiant. By modeling the lens, they then found it to be incredibly bright.

Though some objects can only magnify background objects up to 50 times, smaller objects can significantly increase that. For instance, a single star in the foreground of a lens can magnify a background star thousands of times. That is the case here.

"There are alignments like this all over the place as background stars or stars in lensing galaxies move around, offering the possibility of studying very distant stars dating from the early universe, just as we have been using gravitational lensing to study distant galaxies," said study co-author Alex Filippenko, a professor of astronomy at the University of California, Berkeley, in a statement. "For this type of research, nature has provided us with a larger telescope than we can possibly build!"

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