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Oldest galaxy found and why we care

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
June 12th, 2012
Catholic Online (

Japanese astronomers claim to have found the oldest galaxy yet at 12.91 billion light years distance. Looking at primitive galaxies gives astronomers an important look back into time, when the universe was young. The current discovery comes after observations taken with the Mauna Kea telescope in Hawaii. 

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The claim already faces challenges, not because of its distance or age, but because other teams claim they have found yet more distant (and therefore older) examples. However, the Japanese claim is the first one that has been verified and accepted as accurate. The results will soon be published in the Astrophysical Journal

Nearly all astronomers and cosmologists now agree that the universe began around 13.75 billion years ago in a great event called "the Big Bang." The Big Bang represents the moment of creation and the start of time as we know it. All of the observational data gathered since Monsignor Georges Lemaitre (a Catholic priest) proposed the original theory nearly a century ago, supports this theory of physical creation. 

Owing to increasingly powerful telescopes, we are able to see yet fainter objects which are much farther away. In this case, scientists have been able to observe a galaxy that is 12.91 billion light years away. Because light must travel from that galaxy to our eyes on Earth, it takes time and the result is we observe the galaxy as it appeared 12.91 billion years ago.

To understand that light travels, consider that light from the sun is about 8 light minutes old, by comparison. This means that if the sun were to stop shining, it would take us eight minutes to notice. 

Essentially, what astronomers are seeing is one of the first galaxies in the universe. It is quite literally a baby picture of the universe. 

Why we care

Such observations are critical for understanding how the universe formed and if the Big Bang was, in fact, the physical cause. These deeper cosmological questions matter because they give us a sense of understanding and self by helping us to appreciate our origins and place in the universe. 
The physical understanding should healthily compliment our spiritual understanding. 

While we grapple with the mind-boggling distances and expanses of time, astronomers are literally competing to find yet older galaxies. French and American teams using the Hubble Space telescope both have rival claims, but those claims are yet to be verified. 


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