The related discovery, made with NASA’s Spitzer space telescope, suggests that z8_GND_5296 contains the exploded remains of massive stars, whose nuclear furnaces forged the heavier elements, or that the area of space where the galaxy formed already was seeded with metals from a prior generation of stars -- perhaps the universe’s first.
“It’s surprising that so close to the Big Bang it’s already formed a decent fraction of its metal,” Finkelstein said.
The galaxy is about 1.3 billion times the mass of the sun and located in the direction of the constellation Ursa Major.
Previously, the most distant galaxy was one that formed about 740 million years after the Big Bang.
“We’re probing another 40 million years back into the history of the universe,” Finkelstein said.
Only one other object has been found to be more distant than z8_GND_5296 -- the explosion of a massive star about 70 million years earlier.
“The galaxy associated with this event has remained undetected,” Riechers noted.
To probe even farther back in time, astronomers are banking on NASA’s replacement for Hubble, the James Webb Space Telescope, which is due to launch in 2018.