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Astronomers Detect Most Distant Object Ever Seen

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Astronomers Detect Most Distant Object Ever Seen

Science

Astronomers Detect Most Distant Object Ever Seen

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Now let's turn our attention to a place that is as far away from Capitol Hill as we can imagine. Astronomers say they have detected the most distant object anyone has ever seen in the universe. NPR's Richard Harris has the story.

RICHARD HARRIS: One nice thing about the universe is it still holds some surprises. Nial Tanvir from the University of Leicester in England was lucky enough to find one.

Mr. NIAL TANVIR (University of Leicester): The thing that we discovered is called a gamma ray burst, this kind of exploding star, which these things are brighter than anything else we know of in the universe. So in principle you can see them very far away but they're incredibly rare.

HARRIS: But two teams of astronomers were lying in wait. They used a NASA satellite called Swift to find bursts of gamma rays, then scrambled to figure out where they came from. This burst, on April 23rd, turns out to have come from so far away and so far back in time, the universe was a mere 600 million years old when the star exploded, according to the report in Nature. The light from that explosion took 13 billion years to reach Earth.

Mr. TANVIR: It's absolutely thrilling, a spine-tingling moment, actually, but in a sense it was also a big relief.

HARRIS: Astronomers using the Swift satellite had designed their entire observing strategy to find very young and far away objects. So not finding the most distant object in the universe would actually have been a disappointment.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: And you can get a look at that billions-of-years-old explosion on our Web site, NPR.org.

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