The first image of the most distant known star

Credit image: NASA
Credit image: NASA

Article by: Andacs Robert Eugen, on 10 August 2022, at 09:47 am Los Angeles time

A little less than 13 billion years ago, a big blue star lit up the early cosmos. 

Over countless light-years of expanding space, it glowed, occasionally becoming covered in dust and rocks. Finally, earlier this year, some of that light hit the lenses of an Earth-orbiting telescope, giving us a glimpse of a really old star. 

The images provided by Hubble were extraordinary. But the scientists who saw it said this light was special enough to use another telescope to get a closer look.

Called WHL0137-LS, although it is better known by its original name, Earendel, the star now holds the record for the earliest and most distant star that we humans have ever been lucky enough to see. 

Credit image: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI
Credit image: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

So the James Webb Space Telescope turned its attention to the corner of the sky dominated by the constellation Cetus, where this faint arc of ancient sunlight was last seen. 

So far we know that Earendel is probably hot and big - somewhere between 50 and 100 times the mass of the Sun. This likely caused it to die out more quickly, turning into a supernova just a few million years after it appeared in the sky. Sparking up about 900 million years after the Big Bang, it is unlikely to be among the first stars in the Universe, although it still appeared at a time when heavier elements were somewhat rare. 

With the James Webb Telescope able to discern details that the Hubble Space Telescope cannot, astronomers may soon be able to glean some more clues about this fascinating star.

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