News & AnalysisAstronomy

Warped Light Reveals Infant Galaxy on the Brink of the 'Cosmic Dawn'

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Science  21 Sep 2012:
Vol. 337, Issue 6101, pp. 1442
DOI: 10.1126/science.337.6101.1442

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Astronomers have recently spotted a galaxy dating back to a mere 500 million years after the big bang. The galaxy, some 13.2 billion light-years from Earth, sets a new record for most distant object sighted by astronomers. Such distant, ancient images are technically beyond the reach of existing telescopes. Imaging the infant universe is a primary goal of the James Webb Space Telescope, being built at a cost of $8.7 billion and expected to launch in 2018. Yet astronomers got a sneak preview thanks to gravitational lensing: an effect in which gravity's ability to bend light turns weighty objects such as galaxy clusters into magnifying glasses for sources behind them.