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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away ...

Scientist find star group from beginning of time

distant galaxy
The infrared image of the most distant radio galaxy   

June 18, 1999
Web posted at: 1:36 p.m. EDT (1736 GMT)

LIVERMORE, California (CNN) -- Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory say they've found a galaxy dating back to the beginning of time, close to the edges of the known universe.

The galaxy has its origins in a massive black hole 100 million times the mass of our sun. The black hole sucked in stars and space gases, spitting out columns of energy that sent radio signals throughout the universe, said Wil van Breugel, an astrophysicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

That process yielded the swirling concentration of cosmic gases that came together to create the galaxy's stars, planets and moons.

It took 11 billion years for those signals to reach the Earth and at least 30 years for scientists to figure out how to use the signals to get a picture of the most distant galaxy ever discovered. Researchers recently recalculated the age of the universe at about 12 billion years old.

"For the first time we can now see how galaxies come together, and we can also see black holes that are being active at the same time," van Breugel said.

Van Breugel used radio maps of the heavens to select signals that indicated the greatest distance from Earth. He then used the Very Large Array of radio telescopes in New Mexico to pinpoint the source of the signals.

Keck telescope
The 400-inch Keck telescope was used to produce images of the galaxy   

"Once we have a good position of a radio source, then we take the biggest possible telescope and the most sensitive infrared detectors, and we'll get an image," Van Breugel said.

Van Breugel used the 400-inch Keck Observatory telescopes in Hawaii to get his infrared picture, an option that was unavailable 30 years ago when scientists first began receiving radio signals. Now, new highly sensitive instruments can detect light from across the universe.

The latest discovery may just open the door to more the next time van Breugel gets on the big telescopes to search.

"My first bet would be that on July 11th I may have another one," he says.

Correspondent Don Knapp contributed to this report.

Hubble completes majestic galaxy portrait
June 17, 1999
Hubble catches cosmic 'butterfly'
June 14, 1999
The latest in star fashion: the curly-Q
April 8, 1999
Astronomers spy new neighbors outside solar system
September 24, 1998

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
The Very Large Array
University of California Observatories
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