'Earandel' star discovered billions of light years away is the most distant ever observed

The star has been named 'Earandel.' Credit: NASA, ESA, Brian Welch (JHU), Dan Coe (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Scientists have discovered the most distant star ever observed to date.

Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, a research team including Durham University spotted a new star they have nicknamed 'Earendel' - meaning 'morning' in Old English.

Light from Earendel has taken an estimated 12.9 billion years to reach earth, making it significantly further away than the previous record holder, which existed nine billion years ago.

The team of researchers are calling their findings 'extraordinary'.

  • Dr Guillaume Mahler

Dr Guillaume Mahler, from Durham University’s Department of Physics and Centre of Extragalactic Astronomy, said: "This might be the earliest star we will ever see since the Big Bang and it was so surprising that it is so much younger than the previous entry of nine billion years, at first I didn’t believe it.

“The discovery of Earendel is fantastic and there will be many other aspects of the star we will be able to study, which could keep us busy for years to come.”

As well as being the furthest away, the star is possibly the oldest star we have ever seen and is certainly among the most massive.

What do we know about Earendel?

Even such an impressive star would be impossible to see at such a great distance without the aid of natural magnification by a huge galaxy cluster, WHL0137—08, sitting between us and Earendel.

The mass of the galaxy cluster warps the fabric of space, creating a powerful natural magnifying glass that distorts and greatly amplifies the light from distant objects behind it.

Thanks to the rare alignment with the magnifying galaxy cluster, the star Earendel appears directly on, or extremely close to, a ripple in the fabric of space.

This ripple, which is defined in optics as a “caustic,” provides maximum magnification and brightening.

The effect is similar to the rippled surface of a swimming pool creating patterns of bright light on the bottom of the pool on a sunny day.

The ripples on the surface act as lenses and focus sunlight to maximum brightness on the pool floor.

Credit: NASA, ESA, Brian Welch (JHU), Dan Coe (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

This caustic causes the star Earendel to pop out from the general glow of its home galaxy. Its brightness is magnified by a factor of thousands.

This magnification effect is expected to last for many years, allowing experts to unlock the astronomical secrets the star holds.

"It’s really important because it gives us the elements to understand the universe as it was like as its birth and compare it to what it is like today," added Dr Mahler.