back to article Hubble shows images from record-breaking 13.1 billion light-years

The Hubble telescope has broken its own distance record, spotting a cluster of five galaxies 13.1billion light-years away. They were spotted as part of the Brightest Reionizing Galaxies (BoRG) survey, which aims to scan the theoretical edges of the universe. In a paper to the American Astronomical Society meeting Michele …


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  1. K. Adams

    It will be a sad day indeed...

    ... when our most venerated telescope finally closes its eyes on the heavens.

    When its time comes, we should find a way to move it into a stable parking orbit, so a future vehicle suitable for satellite recovery can bring it home intact, rather than let it be consumed by re-entry.

    If any device deserves to be preserved in the Smithsonian, this is it...

    1. Annihilator Silver badge


      A fair chunk of the "original" HST is already in the Smithsonian. COSTAR (Hubble's "glasses"), the Faint Object Spectrograph and Wide Field & Planetary Camera 2 (WFPC1 was used to create WFPC3!) are there at least, and the Faint Object Camera is somewhere in Germany last I heard - Dornier museum? Not sure where the Goddard Spectrograph ended up, but it came back to earth.

      The telescope itself, as you say is likely to fall out of orbit in the next decade, but on the last servicing mission, NASA installed a glorified "hook" to help any robotic mission that might go get it. The original plan was to get it back with a Shuttle, but that plan's long gone out the window now :-(

  2. Curly4

    Looking 180 degrees the other way.

    If they have seen galaxies 13.1 trillion years in that direction what and how far away have seen in the other direction?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      little Johnny picking his nose. :P

    2. ravenviz Silver badge
      Boffin The Universe is estimated at 90 billion years across, we just can't see it because of the period of inflation after the Great Green Arkleseizure, er, I mean Big Bang.
  3. Gary B.

    Just imagine if...

    ...we didn't have the Space Shuttle after the initial deployment of the HST. The Space Shuttle was the only space vehicle available that could perform the repairs, servicing, and upgrades to the HST, and now we have no such vehicle available to us. If not for the Shuttle, HST would have been put into an orbit to have the same fate as Phobos-Grunt. I can't imagine how the world would be without the amazing discoveries and pictures Hubble has captured.

    Decommissioning of the Space Shuttle before its time: That's one small step toward budget reduction, one giant leap BACKWARDS for mankind.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Personally, I think the Space Shuttle ran for too long

      Seriously, it should have been replaced with something better many years ago, instead of keeping the old dinosaur running. The Shuttle wasn't anywhere near as reusable as it was supposed to be, and a heck of a lot more expensive per launch.

      Unfortunately, because it wasn't replaced and nobody was even working on a replacement, we're now in a situation where it got cancelled with no replacement the moment the economy got bad.

      Orion looks like a bad joke - It's only a bigger Apollo, far too little, far too late. Hopefully cheap, but I doubt it given the main contractors. It won't fly for several years anyway.

      At this rate, China will have cheap, manned heavy lift and return long before the US gets it back or the ESA (ha!) get any at all.

    2. Annihilator Silver badge

      Not quite

      It wouldn't have been as successful, but the HST results before the first service mission (remember, it operated "broken" for three years) were still considerably better than ground-based telescopes at the time. Things have changed, in that ground-based systems are pretty much able to rival Hubble by using adaptive optics.

      If it weren't for the initial design of Hubble, it would have likely been replaced within 3-5 years anyway. There have been about 40+ space telescopes to date, Hubble is only well known due to its longevity and by operating in the visible spectrum, which also has its limits. That's also the reason there are no direct successors to Hubble - it's far more useful to look at the more red-shifted frequencies.

      Without a space shuttle, they would simply have made them more frequently - the cost of the HST programme (including it's 5 services component costs) could have been split into multiple, especially if you remove the cost of the Shuttle programme.

      Without the Shuttle programme, the space programme would certainly look different, but not necessarily any less advanced! :-)

      1. Sir Runcible Spoon


        "Hubble is only well known due to its longevity and by operating in the visible spectrum, which also has its limits."

        Not arguing the point, but when you are looking for public backing for trillion dollar budgets pretty pictures go a long long way. Just over 13 billion years away apparently.

  4. BernieC


    It's always a total gob smacker when one is reappraised of the sheer size of the universe. 13.1 billion light years, bloody hell.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Brian Cox

      That's seven thousand, seven hundred billion, BILLION miles!

      ... << pause to wonder >> ...

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        You may think it's a long way down to the shops...

        but that's *nothing* compared to space!

        (with apologies to DNA)

        1. Andrew Halliwell
          Thumb Down

          re: You may think it's a long way down to the shops...

          Quite right to apologise, mangling a quote like that. It's inexusable.

          "I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to space"

          1. ravenviz Silver badge

            We need a paraphrase icon.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "size of the universe"

      Actually the *size* of the observable universe is around 95 billion light-years (in diameter). Although the age is only 14 billion years.

      This is because of the inflation of space that happened early on in the universe. Any light that has been in transit since the beginning of the universe has come from a source that is now much further away than a simple distance/time calculation indicates. While the light beam was travelling, the actual units of space between it and it's source have expanded dramatically (particularly early on in it's journey).

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Citation needed.

        "Actually the *size* of the observable universe is around 95 billion light-years (in diameter)."


        When you receive your redshifted photon NOW, by measuring the redshift you know how long (and thus how far) it has travelled: 13 billion years. I assume that you try to say that the galaxy is "now" 95 billion light years away, but there is no well-defined "now" in that sense. Special relativity gets rid of simultaneity of events, and quite viciously so the further away these events are (just changing one's speed *here* by a meter per second shifts the relative times of events in Andromeda by many years IIRC)

        1. TimeMaster T

          May be a lot bigger than 95 Billion

          Try 10^23 times bigger than the visible universe.

          Maybe. Ain't science fun?

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          I can't be bothered to argue.

          Mainstream physics says the universe is 13.75 billion years old, and 93 billion light-years in diameter, taking relativity into account. If you choose not to believe in the expansion of the universe, or relativity, then go argue with people on youtube, or find flaws in the various measurements.

          "The age of the universe is estimated to be 13.7 billion years. While it is commonly understood that nothing can accelerate to velocities equal to or greater than that of light, it is a common misconception that the radius of the observable universe must therefore amount to only 13.7 billion light-years. This reasoning makes sense only if the universe is the static spacetime of special relativity, but in the real universe, spacetime is expanding, as evidenced by Hubble's law. Distances obtained as the speed of light multiplied by a cosmological time interval have no direct physical significance."

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward



      2. fch

        "light from the beginning of the universe"

        ... isn't visible in any wavelength of the electromagnetic spectrum - the primordial fireball, as bright and impressive the term may sound, actually was 100% opaque, because the universe started in thermal equilibrium and whatever photons there were constantly got absorbed and reemitted - up to the time when radiation and matter decoupled; only after neutral hydrogen atoms finally formed and no longer were reionized since the temperature / average background radiation energy had dropped sufficiently, said radiation became free/visible - the cosmic background. It's considerably _younger_ (a few hundred thousands of years) than the universe itself.

        The only way to look "through" that "wall of fire" are indirect methods (density waves imprinting themselves on the radiation) or, if it ever becomes possible to detect them at those low energies, the cosmic neutrino background (which decoupled a few minutes after the big bang).

  5. The Fuzzy Wotnot


    One of this stories you read that really makes you realise what you are, a bit special to be here by way of a million games of chance yet still so utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

    1. Tom Chiverton 1

      If you squint, you can just make out a tiny little arrow saying 'you are here'.


  6. Darryl
    Thumb Up

    And on the bright side

    It will take the BoRG billions of years to get here, so we're safe from assimilation for quite a while.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Resistance is futile: Existence, as you know it, is over.

      Now here's a thought....

      If it takes 13.1 Billion years for the light to get here, and if the universe ends in a big crunch in anything *less* that 13.1 Billion years, does that light *accelerate* in order to get here in time ?

      My brain hurts just thinking about that one.

    2. Anonymous Coward

      but don't forget the Borg can travel via transwarp conduits so it might take them just, oh, 1 billion years?

      And is it just me, but isn't calling a project BoRG just asking for cybernetic trouble?

      Mines the one built in ...

    3. Mystic Megabyte


      "It will take the BoRG billions of years to get here, so we're safe from assimilation for quite a while."

      Where do you think Steve Jobs got the idea for the NeXT cube from?

      We're doomed I tell ya!

  7. WangChung2900

    resistance is futile

    ..ok , so we can see 13.1 billion light years to the "beginning of the universe" right?

    and that would make us 13.6 bill years after the big bang approximately , have we been traveling at the speed of light in our galaxy away from the big bang? how else would we be 13 billion light years away unless we were moving the speed of light right? which would either mean we've been here longer than 13 billion years or we(our galaxy) have gone much faster than the speed of light in the past at some time ....which is impossible. I am no physicist by any stretch of the imagination , and i'm sure i missed something here , but if we are 13.1 billion light years from an object and are not travelling away from that object at the speed of light , then we must have either been travelling away from said object for longer than 13.1 billion years , or been going faster than the speed of light for a time, or we must have been here before? someone please shoot my theory full of holes and dash my hopes of the Nobel prize lol

    1. Jon 64

      It all has to do with the expansion of the universe. So the difference between our distance travelled and the distance bet us and these galaxies is down to the expansion of the universe.

    2. gizmo23

      Space is getting bigger

      You have to take into account that space itself has been getting bigger for 13 10^9 years as well. What I want to know is where's the middle? If the universe is expanding and by tracking backwards we come to the idea of the Big Bang, then where (in our current universe) did it happen? And if these galaxies are on the 'other side', then doesn't that mean the universe could be only 6 1/2 10^9 years old?

      My head hurts as well (see icon)

      1. Tim Bergel

        What I want to know is where's the middle?

        There is no middle. Its space itself that is expanding and its expanding everywhere (I think).

        1. LaeMing

          @Where is the middle?

          same place as the middle of the SURFACE of a sphere is. Just up one extra dimension.

      2. Lallabalalla


        the distances are remaining constant but the time taken to travel between them is dilating.

    3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      "Bill years"

      pronounced "beers"

    4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      Well that's easy

      "away from the big bang?"

      Nope, because the Big Bang is not "somewhere" but "somewhen" - in your past! In fact, it "is" your past, in the same sense as the Big Crunch "is" your future (if there is one, which seems to not be the case)

      Do not envision the Big Bang as a point in space but rather as space coming into hot existence *everywhere* (where "everywhere" could be a closed universe just a few planck lengths across or possibly a universe already of infinite size) with time starting off *from then* (with the "future" direction most probably not even well defined)

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If the universe were really formed from a single explosion then the universe would be lot more symmetrical than the way we see right now. I'll let God explain it to me when the time comes.

      1. Jedit Silver badge

        "The universe is asymmetrical, so science is false!"

        Er, no. Even had the Big Bang been a perfectly even explosion, the universe would not be symmetrical because it is composed of different types of matter with different weights. This in turn affects both the gravity in and the velocity of various parts of the universe. The distribution of mass would have shifted within picoseconds of the Big Bang.

      2. Chemist

        Re: "If the universe were really formed from a single explosion"

        It's thought that quantum fluctuations when the universe was tiny just after the 'Big Bang' were 'frozen' by the gigantic inflationary process and give rise to the small scale heterogenicity seen On the large scale the universe is very homogenous or symmetric. It's reconciling these two observations that suggested the extremely small nature of the start point and inflation theory
  8. Mikel

    Whar the big bang?

    @gizmo23 "If the universe is expanding and by tracking backwards we come to the idea of the Big Bang, then where (in our current universe) did it happen?"

    Right here, of course.

  9. WangChung2900

    Space is getting bigger,

    Space is expanding true, but are you saying that spaces expansion is outside the cosmic speed limit of the speed of light? If a body is in "space" and goes the speed of light , then the rate of expansion is added to the speed of light?...and forgive me if im wrong , but isnt the fact that two objects are traveling away from each other indeed the very "expansion of space" you are talking about?

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re expansion of space: I'm no expert, but I believe that is the story. Distant objects in the universe are getting farther away even if they are not moving, because space is getting bigger. That's probably the wrong way to say it.

      1. Dan 37

        also no expert but the universe expanding comments here have me thinking of 2 dots painted on a balloon - when you inflate the ballon the dots are further apart although they are both painted on the same bit of baloon surface they were to begin with - they haven't 'moved'. Theoretically the dots could move in opposite directions, each at the speed of light relative to the balloon surface and the balloon could also be expanding to increase their seperation further. If I'm not mistaken, an outside observer would only see them moving apart at the speed of light anyway, cos relativity says so. or something.

        1. Dan 37

          further to the above, I would like to disavow the many and varied incorrect spellings of balloon. These can be blamed on the early hour, lack of coffee, lack of typing ability or lack of brains, at your discretion.

          1. A. Coatsworth
            Mushroom Going by the balloon comparison: The dots painted on the surface also expand in the same proportion as the space between them... are we also expanding with the universe? are we getting "bigger" in some dimension my puny brain is unable to even start comprehend? ... my mind literally boggles. I'm feeling dizzy, and small, after reading all these comments
            1. Dan 37

              I was thinking about that too yesterday - if EVERYTHING was expanding at the same rate, would we even notice? would it have any measurable effect? For this to even work various universal laws/constants would probably have to auto adjust to give consistant results as the universe grows - ants (after a few billion years of expansion) collapsing under their own gravity to form stars/black holes would be amusing perhaps, but only briefly.

              The balloon (ballon/baloon) metaphor still holds up if you assume a molecule sized dot painted on a single molecule of balloon(etc) surface - molecules get further apart when the ballo(ohforgetit) expands, without increasing in size (probably - I've never examined a balloothingy expanding under a microscope).

  10. dssf

    We are here?

    I wonder this: Can more Hubbles or similars be put up to help triangulate where the "center" of expansion is? Would the resolution be good enough to help us figure out if we're near the "center" or off on some wagging tail of the ever-expanding universe.

    Also, do we have a good understanding of how the universe truly is shaped? Is it spherical, fluted, tail-like? Is it tubular, is it bell-shaped?

    1. Mikel

      This quiz is getting harder

      "Also, do we have a good understanding of how the universe truly is shaped? Is it spherical, fluted, tail-like? Is it tubular, is it bell-shaped?"

      There's a certain ambiguity about the shape of something so large that disparate parts of it are mutually nonexistent. I'm going to go with the simple answer: "Yes."

    2. Steve Knox


      a spherical loaf of bread dough, not yet risen. Put it in a gravity-free environment and place raisins all over the surface of the dough. Now let it rise.

      Imagine that the raisins are two-dimensional creatures whose sight travels along the surface of the sphere. They each would see all of the other raisins moving away from them as the dough expands, and so might conclude that they are at the center of their expanding universe. But in reality there is no discernible center; the center actually lies perpendicular to them in a dimension beyond their perception. From their viewpoint, space is expanding everywhere in all directions.

      That's the way I convince my brain to believe what the scientists are telling me.

      1. Andrew Halliwell

        Re: Imagine

        I suppose one way to think about it using the balloon/rising bread analogy is...

        Think of the centre of the universe AS the big bang and the expansion being the time filling the "balloon". Or something.

        Big bang go boom, time inflates space, pushing the skin of the universe where we live out.

        I know it's wrong, but it stops all the "where's the centre of the universe" questions. The centre of the universe is the big bang.

        Of course, using this model the universe looks a very weird shape indeed to residents of the "surface" cos light takes so long, so they pereive themselves to be on the "far away from the centre" skin, and then see the skin shrivel and shrink towards the centre as they look back in time.

        I wonder if we'll ever be able to look back fat enough to see something CLOSE to the big bang. I know the microwave background radiation is that, but something as the first stars formed perhaps...

  11. Annihilator Silver badge

    We are here, there and everywhere

    The centre is both everywhere and nowhere. The cosmic microwave background radiation is the extremely redshifted "glow" from the initial big bang and can be seen roughly uniformly in every direction you look in space.

    The easiest way to think about the expansion is like living on a surface of an inflating balloon where you can only perceive the 2-dimenstions, and trying to figure out where the expansion originates from.

    1. Sir Runcible Spoon


      "The easiest way to think about the expansion is like living on a surface of an inflating balloon where you can only perceive the 2-dimenstions, and trying to figure out where the expansion originates from."

      Um, below?

      1. Annihilator Silver badge

        "Um, below"

        There is no "below" on the balloon surface for a 2-dimensional object.

        1. Sir Runcible Spoon


          As the Beeb would say "Other dimensions are available" :)

  12. John Sanders

    I used to be... utterly insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

    Then I took an arrow to the knee.

    I would just be happy if we could just send a probe to Uranus and another to Neptune before I'm gone. (I do not have any hopes, I'm nearly 40 now)

    This is so at least I die knowing what's on the backyard of the solar system.

    The rest of the universe is out of reach.

  13. JeffyPooh

    @D.A.M. "Doubtful"

    The only solution then is to grab a tape measure, fasten one end to Toronto* and head out. What radius (thus diameter) would that process (eventually) give? :-) I think AC makes an interesting point, even if the actual number is a point for debate.

    * Toronto = the center of the Universe (ask anyone)

    1. defiler

      Toronto? Gosh!

      That is all.
      1. Sir Runcible Spoon


        "Toronto? Gosh!" I've been saying this to wind my wife up on occasion for so long that I've forgotten where it's from - is it Star Wars?

        1. defiler

          I think it's Return of the Jedi, when C3PO is playing god with the Ewoks. But yes, it's been so long that I'm a bit hazy myself...

  14. Winkypop Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    This stuff is FAR!

    You might enjoy this:

  15. Fab De Marco

    But the question on everyone lips is....

    Will it Blend?

  16. Purlieu

    The universe isn't X billion lightyears across

    We're still in the singularity.
  17. ravenviz Silver badge

    "BoRG has no plans for assimilation of galaxies"

    They haven't made it out the Delta quadrant yet!
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