NASA have just broken the record for time travel using a real life time machine, built twenty five years ago at a cost $2.5 billion. What’s more, they’ve even taken a photograph to prove it and have released a video to chart this amazing journey 13.4 billion years into the past.
This month the Hubble Space Telescope captured an image of a remote galaxy far far away, over 13 billion light years away. In astronomical terms distance from earth is measured by how long light takes light from an object to reach us. This means that light that travelled over 13 billion light years to reach the lenses and sensors onboard the Hubble Space Telescope is over 13 billion years old. The images recorded by Hubble give us a glimpse of what this galaxy, named GN-z11, looked like a mere 400 million years after the big bang, making it one of the first galaxies to be formed after the formation of the known Universe. This is a photograph of what the Universe looked like when it was only 3% of it’s current age.
It really becomes mind bending when you think, by the time the light from this distant galaxy has reached us, it is likely to no longer exist. Whatever cataclysmic events have led to it’s demise will take several billion more years to reach us.
Even more exciting is the fact that we are fast approaching a time when we may well be able to see back to the earliest moments after the birth of our Universe. In 2018 the James Webb Space Telescope will launch which will allow us to see even further into the past.
In an interview with USA Today Patrick McCarthy, president of the Giant Magellan Telescope Organisation described the significance of Hubble’s achievement, “One of the Holy Grails of astronomy is to look back to see the first galaxies and, of course, stars when they formed. This discovery really pushes back the frontier further than we expected.” He continued by comparing Hubble’s capturing of images of distant galaxies to how archaeologists learn about earliest life of earth, “it’s like digging up a fossil, you see what life was like millions of years ago, it’s almost a fossil of the early universe.”
It is humbling to think that in approximately 5 billion years from now, an intelligent life form could be watching events from present day Earth play out in front of the lens of a space telescope , long after our Sun has been reduced to a white dwarf, nothing more than a pulsing glowing ember in a cold, dark corner of the Milky Way. By that rational if somebody is indeed watching us from afar right now this second, they could well be watching our planet form from an accretion disc orbiting a star only in it’s infancy. Who needs flying De Loreans when we’ve got Hubble.
Take a journey 13.4 billion years back in time via this video created by NASA.
For more information check out : NASA COSMIC RECORD