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Most distant known galaxy spotted: Time for a road trip?

Astronomers have found a galaxy so distant that when they look at it, they see conditions going back to when the universe was in its relative infancy.

An artist's rendition of the newly discovered galaxy z8_GND_5296, which despite its name is actually not a Windows registry entry.
V. Tilvi, C. Papovich, S.L. Finkelstein and the Hubble Heritage Team

Good news, road trip fans! Astronomers say they've spotted the most distant potential destination: a galaxy far, far away (road not included).

Led by University of Texas at Austin astronomer Steven Finkelstein, a team using NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Keck I telescope at the W. M. Keck Observatory on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, has spotted and measured the stretch to what they claim is the most distant galaxy ever found by humans. The view astronomers got of galaxy z8_GND_5296 is as it was just 700 million years after the Big Bang.

"We get a glimpse of conditions when the universe was only about 5 percent of its current age of 13.8 billion years," team member Casey Papovich of Texas A&M University said in a statement.

The team used special equipment to measure how much a galaxy's light wavelengths have shifted toward the red end of the spectrum while making their intergalactic road trip -- light travels solo, not in a craft more suited to humans like this one -- to Earth.

This phenomenon, called a "redshift," is caused by the expansion of the universe. z8_GND_5296 clocked a redshift of 7.51, and those of you who follow redshifting closely will recognize that this figure is the highest galactic redshift ever recorded, outdoing the previous record-holder -- another galaxy in the same part of the sky with a redshift of 7.2.

Also of note is the fact that these two most distant galaxies appear to be (or have been) forming new stars at a much more rapid rate than that of our own Milky Way galaxy. This likely means that if we were ever able to figure out a way to take that road trip to z8_GND_5296 without having to spend billions of units of fuel and lifetimes to get there, we could be rewarded with one heck of a light show at the end of the trip.