An international team of astronomers smashed cosmic records to see hydrogen in a galaxy more than five billion light years away.
Using the Very Large Array of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in the US, the team observed radio emission from hydrogen in a distant galaxy and found that it would have contained billions of young, massive stars surrounded by clouds of hydrogen gas.
As the most abundant element in the Universe and the raw fuel for creating stars, hydrogen is used by radio astronomers to detect and understand the makeup of other galaxies.
However, until now, radio telescopes have only been able to detect the emission signature of hydrogen from relatively nearby galaxies.
“Due to the upgrade of the Very Large Array, this is the first time we’ve been able to directly measure atomic hydrogen in a galaxy this far from Earth,” lead author, Dr Ximena Fernández from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, said.
Fernandez added that these signals would have begun their journey before our planet even existed and after five billion years of travelling through space without hitting anything, they have fallen into the telescope and allowed the astronomers to see this distant galaxy for the very first time.
The study appears in Astrophysical Journal Letters.