A team of scientists and astronomers have identified a tiny pinprick of light, in a NASA Hubble Space Telescope image, as the furthest known star.
The star, officially named “MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1”, is more than 9 billion light years away from us here on Earth and shows up as a minuscule speck on the image captured by the space telescope.
The star has since been dubbed Icarus, which is far easier to digest than its official name, and according to doctor Patrick Kelly, first author of the research from the University of Minnesota, is “more than 100 times farther away than the next most distant individual star we can observe”.
Kelly also states that “we are looking back three-quarters of the way almost to the big bang”.
Icarus was initially spotted when the scientists were examining a supernova known as SN Refsdal in a galaxy more than nine billion light years away when they noticed a light that appeared four times brighter than in previous images.
Upon further investigation, the speck was determined to be a star whose brightness had been magnified by a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing. This is a process whereby light emitted by the star is bent by the gravitational effect of objects in front of it – in this case the galaxy cluster.
The star, being such an immense distance away, has already collapsed into a black hole or formed a neutron star by now but it’s legacy as noted by The Guardian has helped scientists rule out a theory that dark matter consists of black holes.
Had this been the case, the star would have brightened even more than it currently has since its initial discovery.
If anything, the discovery has shown that science has progressed to the point where humanity can now detect objects that aren’t just the largest and brightest in the night sky.