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Galaxy 12.3 Billion Lightyears From Earth
Is The Most Distant Object Ever Seen

Astronomers who say they have seen the most distant object ever noticed from Earth -- a small galaxy 12.3 billion light-years from Earth -- report they are on the brink of seeing other things even farther away and closer to the Big Bang beginning of the Universe.

Just what is the Big Bang? According to the theory, the universe started some time ago when a huge explosion at a point sent out stuff which has been expanding ever since. Just when the Big Bang may have happened is controversial, but most scientists at this time in Earth history say it was about 13 billion years ago. That's nine to ten billion years before Earth formed near our small star -- the Sun. At any rate, in the billions of years since the Big Bang, some of the hydrogen and helium released by the explosion accumulated into stars which have formed other chemicals.

A lightyear is the distance light travels in a vacuum in one year, about 5.8 trillion miles.

University of Hawaii astronomer and co-discoverer of the newly-designated most distant object Esther M. Hu said they are looking "about 94 percent of the distance back to the Big Bang."

The discovery was announced in the weekly magazine Science News just six weeks after another team of astronomers found a small galaxy about 12.2 billion lightyears away. At that time, that discovery had established a most-distant mark. Both teams of astronomers used the Keck telescopes in Hawaii.

University of Washington astronomy professor Bruce Margon said the latest discovery was important because it pushed back the time that stars and galaxies formed after the Big Bang, giving astronomers a more clear picture of the history of the universe. He noted that the records for most distant galaxies once would stand for years. Now they change in months.

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