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Ancient galaxy "from dawn of time" creating stars at shocking rate, astronomers say


A composite photograph of the galaxy GN-108036 from the Hubble and Spitzer telescopes.



Scientists photographing an ancient galaxy formed just after the birth of the universe say it is churning out stars at a "shocking rate," creating the equivalent of about 100 Suns a year.

Astronomers, who used NASA’s Spitzer and Hubble space telescopes to photograph the galaxy, called GN-108036, said it was one of the most distant from Earth — about 12.9 billion light-years away.

Given it has taken 12.9 billion years for the images to reach us, the galaxy appears as it existed just 750 million years after the universe began, UPI reported. "The universe, for comparison, is about 13.7 billion years old."

NASA officials described the galaxy, whose discovery was announced Dec. 21, as shining from the "dawn of time," reported

“The discovery is surprising because previous surveys had not found galaxies this bright so early in the history of the universe,” read a widely reported statement from Mark Dickinson from the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. “It may be a special, rare object that we just happened to catch during an extreme burst of star formation.”

The Milky Way galaxy, home to Earth, is about five times bigger than GN-108036 but makes about 30 times fewer stars per year.

Astronomers were "surprised to see such a rate of star formation in a galaxy is so small and from such an early cosmic era," UPI reports.

Galaxies forming within the first few hundreds of millions of years after the Big Bang were much smaller than the ones astronomers see in later periods because they had not yet built up most of their bulk.

So seeing a galaxy like GN-108036, which is small yet exceptionally bright and teeming with star formation, came as a shock.

"The high rate of star formation found for GN-108036 implies that it was rapidly building up its mass some 750 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only about 5 percent of its present age," UPI quotes Bahram Mobasher, an astronomer from the University of California, Riverside, as saying.

"This was therefore a likely ancestor of massive and evolved galaxies seen today."

A photo of the rare galaxy released by NASA shows the object as a red blob surrounded by other bright galaxies.