From the Board of Visitors Executive Committee


Assistant Professor Steven Finkelstein

October 30, 2013: Finkelstein leads team identifying the most distant galaxy every found

In case you missed it, The University of Texas at Austin Astronomy faculty member Steven Finkelstein was the lead author on a paper, announced on October 23, 2013, that made worldwide news. He led a team that has discovered and measured the distance to a galaxy designated z8_GND_5296, which, at redshift 7.51, is the most distant galaxy ever found. The galaxy is seen as it was at a time just 700 million years after the Big Bang.

The 21-person research team represented 12 different institutions around the world. Their findings were published, under the title "A galaxy rapidly forming stars 700 million years after the Big Bang at redshift 7.51," in the October 24, 2013, edition of the journal Nature. You can find the original paper at:

A galaxy rapidly forming stars 700 million years after the Big Bang at redshift 7.51

And you can find McDonald Observatory's press release at:

Texas Astronomer Discovers Most Distant Known Galaxy

Coverage of the research team's findings went out worldwide, on the Web sites of such major news outlets as the BBC, CNN, Nature News, UPI, the Washington Post, Discover magazine, Space.com, The Independent, and The Daily Mail.

Hubble Space Telescope Image of galaxy z8_GND_5296

A quick Google search for z8_GND_5296 shows more than 3,400 results (and the tendency for headline writers to use the "galaxy far, far away" phrase drawn from the movie Star Wars). Scanning those stories shows a point of confusion. In interviews following publication, the researchers said that, while we now see galaxy z8_GND_5296 as it was some 13.1 billion years ago, it has actually been pulled by the expanding Universe to a distance of about 30 billion light years -- leading some headline writers to describe the galaxy using the greater distance.

Finkelstein’s team selected this galaxy, and dozens of others, for follow-up from the approximately 100,000 galaxies discovered in the Hubble Cosmic Assembly Near-infrared Deep Extragalactic Legacy Survey (CANDELS), of which Finkelstein is a team member. The largest project in the history of Hubble, CANDELS used more than one month of Hubble observing time. The team then used the MOSFIRE spectrograph on the Keck I telescope in Hawaii for spectrographic confirmation of its redshift.

CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater conducted a great interview (via SKYPE from an observing run at Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona) on October 25. It can be seen at:

CNN interview with Dr. Steven Finkelstein

[Joel Barna]

October 2013
Astronomy Program · The University of Texas at Austin
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