A Galaxy Far, Far Away

   With a combination of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and a technique called gravitational lensing, NASA astronomers have been able to image what is so far the most distant galaxy. This galaxy is estimated to be somewhere around 13.2 billion light years distant, and at that distance the age of the galaxy would be about 200 million years old.
   Gravitational lensing is the term used to describe what happens when light from distant objects passes another celestial object like a galaxy or a cluster of galaxies lying in our line of sight direction – between us and the more distant object. That light is magnified and refracted by the gravitational field of the ‘between’ object. Think of this as being able to use a magnifying lens to enlarge the object being viewed.
   In a related topic the galaxy may actually be about 30 feet closer. Huh?!
   At the recently ended International Astronomical Union (IAU) meeting in China members adopted a resolution that agrees with Resolution B2 approved in 2009 which established the Astronomical Unit (au) as a distance of 149,597,870,700 meters, ± 3m (92,955,807.273 miles). This is the mean, or average Earth to Sun distance, or as my students should know, is the semi-major axis of Earth’s slightly elliptically shaped orbit. However they have learned that the value for 1 au is 149,597,870,691 meters. That is a whopping 9 meter (29.5 feet) difference from the IAU’s newly adopted value.

I Can See Clearly Now

The next generation orbiting telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, is not scheduled to be launched until 2018. However there is a lot of information useful for those that are simply curious, or for those teaching Earth and Space Sciences. The Webb Telescope will be used to study infrared radiation, heat energy, radiate by many objects yet invisible to our eyes without the use of optical devices like the infrared sensitive Webb Telescope.
To explain what this is all about the folks at STScI (Space Telescope Science Institute) have developed an entertaining and informative animated 8-minute video, Beyond the Visible”. The video is available for either online viewing or for download.
A related video, and one of my favorites about Infrared is Infrared: More Than Your Eyes Can See (hey Michelle!) that was produced by the Spitzer Space Telescope folks.
An offshoot of the Spitzer web site is the Cool Cosmos web site. This is the location for the video as well as many good resources for the classroom.
Here is an alternate link (on YouTube) for the video.

Click here to read the Press Release about the James Webb Space Telescope.