Cosmic lens helps Hubble capture most distant star ever seen

A rare gravitational lensing event has allowed astronomers to image the most distant single star ever observed

The most distant "normal" star ever found, nicknamed Icarus, was spotted 9 billion light-years from Earth because of a chance alignment with a foreground object.

On a clear day, you can see for miles.

Astronomers have seen galaxies as far away as 13.3 billion light years.

Suspecting that Icarus might be more highly magnified than SN Refsdal, Kelly and his team analyzed the colors of the light coming from it and discovered it was a single star, a blue supergiant.

The stargazers were at that point watching the lensing occasion with the Hubble Space Telescope to concentrate to the supernova Refsdal, which was seen in 2016.

This phenomenon, called gravitational lensing, occurs when a massive galaxy or cluster of galaxies bend the light emitted from a more distant galaxy.

Writing in the journal Nature Astronomy, an worldwide team of researchers reveal how their curiosity was piqued in 2016.

Gravity from massive galaxy clusters can sometimes act as a lens in space, bending and magnifying the light of objects behind them.

Furthermore, the newly discovered star may also help shed light on one of the most mysterious materials in our universe - dark matter.


"This is the first time we're seeing a magnified, individual star", said study leader Patrick Kelly, an assistant astronomy professor at the University of Minnesota.

"We will now be able to study in detail what the universe was like - and specifically how stars evolved and what their natures are - nearly all the way back to the earliest stages of the universe and the first generations of stars", Kelly added. Gravitational lensing relies on good luck, but it makes stars much easier to spot, easily magnifying them about 50 times over.

Scientists have detected the most distant star ever viewed, a blue behemoth located more than halfway across the universe and named after the ancient Greek mythological figure Icarus. This meant the star was not another supernova like Refsdal, but instead was a distant, non-exploding star that was being not only lensed by the intervening galaxy cluster, but also microlensed by another small, yet massive object within the cluster.

In this case, a rare cosmic alignment naturally magnified the supergiant more than 2,000 times, allowing astronomers to see it.

The star is saddled with the official name "MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star 1", but astronomers call it Icarus.

"By modeling the lens, they [astronomers] concluded that the tremendous apparent brightening of Icarus was probably caused by a unique effect of gravitational lensing", UC Berkeley representatives said in the statement. As stars in the cluster MACS J1149+2223 move around, the brightness of Icarus could be increased as much as 10,000 times during other lensing events. These observations can provide a rare look at how stars evolve, especially the most luminous ones.

"There are alignments like this all over the place as background stars or stars in lensing galaxies move around, offering the possibility of studying very distant stars dating from the early universe, just as we have been using gravitational lensing to study distant galaxies", Filippenko said in the press release.

"For this type of research, nature has provided us with a larger telescope than we can possibly build".

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