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Watch NASA zoom in on the most distant galaxy it has ever seen

Brian Resnick is Vox’s science and health editor, and is the co-creator of Unexplainable, Vox's podcast about unanswered questions in science. Previously, Brian was a reporter at Vox and at National Journal.

When the Hubble Space Telescope stares into the deepest reaches of space, it is also looking backward in time. The further away the light source, the older it is.

In the video above, NASA uses it to zoom into the oldest and farthest galaxy Hubble has ever seen. The light from the galaxy, called GN-z11, is 13.4 billion years old, or just 400 million years after the Big Bang (i.e., the beginning of time).

The light is so old, it was created before the Earth formed. (Our planet is around 4.5 billion years old.)

Astronomers are able to guess the distance of the galaxy by determining how much of its light has shifted into the red spectrum.
NASA, ESA, and P. Oesch (Yale University)

The galaxy is 200 million years older than Hubble's previous record observation.

Scientists are excited about the findings because the further into the past we can see, the more we can learn about the formation of the universe. It's likely we won't observe an older object than this one until the James Webb Space Telescope — which will be more powerful than Hubble — is launched in October 2018. "We’ve taken a major step back in time, beyond what we’d ever expected to be able to do with Hubble," astronomer Pascal Oesch said in a press release.

The James Webb telescope will have a mirror six times as large as Hubble's, which offers the exciting prospect that astronomers will be able to see even older galaxies, maybe even the very first of them. With those observations, we can infer more information about how the first stars formed and how our cosmos evolved.

NASA, ESA, B. Robertson (University of California, Santa Cruz), A. Feild (STScI)