A new galaxy has been entered in the unofficial race to find the oldest and most distant galaxy yet spotted. As reported in the Jan. 26 issue of Nature, the galaxy is about 500 million years old meaning, since the universe is thought to be 13.7 billion years old, it formed when the universe was only 4 percent of its current age.
It was spotted by a group of University of California Santa Cruz astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope. The telescope had to be trained on the segment of the sky where the galaxy was found for 48 hours to collect enough light to see it.
The galaxy is 13.2 billion light-years away, so light has been traveling all that time to reach us. One light-year is equal to 6 trillion miles, to give some idea of the vast distance involved.
The limit to which the HST can “see” likely has been reached, and astronomers will have to await the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope in 2015 to continue their quest to the edge of time.
Focus on the planets
Mercury opens the month low in the west after sunset and far to the lower right of Jupiter. Mercury will then begin its best display for 2011, rising higher in the sky each night and, by midmonth, may be spotted slightly to the upper right of its giant companion.
Venus will continue to dominate in the southeastern predawn sky. On March 1, Venus was joined by the crescent moon to its immediate left. Mars is on the far side of the sun from Earth and cannot be seen in March.
Jupiter will dominate the western evening sky, setting about two hours after the sun as the month opens. It will continue to slide down the horizon during the month.
Saturn rose in the southeast about two hours after sunset on March 1 and about sunset by month’s end. Saturn’s rings are tilted favorably for viewing by telescope around midnight, and its major moon Titan also is clearly visible as it orbits the planet every 16 days.
Uranus will be lost in the sun’s glare during March.
Neptune will also be out of view for much of the month, but may be spotted on March 27 in the company of Venus very low in the southeast at dawn. A telescope will be needed to spot the dim dot that is Neptune.
1: Sunrise, 6:14 a.m.; sunset, 5:22 p.m. Look for the crescent moon and Venus low in the southeast at dawn.
4: New moon, 3:46 p.m.
6: The moon is at apogee or farthest distance from Earth. The thin crescent moon is to the upper left of Jupiter in the west at sunset.
12: Moon in first quarter, 6:45 p.m. The sun enters Pisces on the ecliptic.
13: The second Sunday in March and time to set your clocks ahead by one hour as daylight saving time goes into effect. Look to the west about 40 minutes after sunset for Jupiter with Mercury to the lower right. Mercury edges by Jupiter each night and, on March 16, is to the giant planet’s upper right.
15: The Ides of March. A bad day for Julius Caesar.
19: Full moon, 2:10 p.m. The full moon of March is known as the Worm Moon, Sap Moon, Crow Moon and Lenten Moon. The moon is at perigee, or nearest approach to Earth, and the coupling of these two events should give rise to astronomically high tides.
20: Spring or vernal equinox, 7:21 p.m. The sun crosses the equator into the northern celestial hemisphere for the spring and summer. The sun enters the astrological sign of Aries at the vernal equinox but astronomically is still in Pisces.
22: Mercury is low and bright in the west at nightfall just above the much-brighter Jupiter, which is sinking into the sun’s glare.
26: Moon in last quarter, 8:07 a.m.
31: Venus is bright low in the southeast at dawn with the crescent moon to its upper left. Sunrise, 6:19 a.m.; sunset, 7:01 p.m.
Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org or care of the Bangor Daily News, Style Desk, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402.