The Hubble Space Telescope orbiting the Earth
Ann Ronan Pictures—Print Collector—Getty Images
By Aric Jenkins
April 4, 2018

The powerful Hubble Space Telescope recently helped scientists make a stunning observation: the most distant star ever seen, 9 billion light years away.

Astronomers affiliated with the University of California, Berkeley were able to observe the star, dubbed Icarus, thanks to a rare cosmic phenomenon called gravitational lensing, which bends light from distant galaxies to allow researchers to make out individual stars that are typically too far away to see.

“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,” Patrick Kelly, the study’s lead author who serves on the faculty at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, said in a statement. The study was published on Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy.

“For the first time ever we’re seeing an individual normal star — not a supernova, not a gamma ray burst, but a single stable star — at a distance of nine billion light years,” added Alex Filippenko, a professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley who co-authored the study. “These lenses are amazing cosmic telescopes.”

Icacrus’ distance of 9 billion light years means that light from the star has been traveling across the universe back to Earth for that amount of time. In contrast, the universe itself it estimated to be approximately 13.8 billion years old.

“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,” Filippenko said in the statement. “For this type of research, nature has provided us with a larger telescope than we can possibly build.”

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