Astronomers have taken a photograph of the most distant galaxy ever discovered.
Combining images from the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes the researchers set the record for the farthest object ever pictured relative to Earth.
Appearing as a faint, red blotch in the sky, it is hard to make out too much detail. But it's a staggering portrait of the early universe, which required the use of a 'natural telescope' in space to create.
The galaxy, named MACS0647-JD, was observed at 420 million years after the big bang - 70 million years earlier than any object yet seen.
Light from the small galaxy has taken 97% of the age of the universe to reach the Earth - more than 13.3 billion years.
Scientists needed the help of a natural 'zoom lens' - using galaxy clusters to magnify distant object behind them - to take the picture.
This effect is known as "gravitational lensing" and has revealed many objects that astronomers had previously not been able to see.
Along the way, 8 billion years into its journey, light from MACS0647-JD took a detour along multiple paths around the massive galaxy cluster MACS J0647+7015.
Without the cluster's magnification powers, astronomers would not have seen this remote galaxy.
Because of gravitational lensing, the CLASH research team was able to observe three magnified images of MACS0647-JD with the Hubble telescope. The cluster's gravity boosted the light from the faraway galaxy, making the images appear about eight, seven, and two times brighter than they otherwise would that enabled astronomers to detect the galaxy more efficiently and with greater confidence.
The galaxy as it appears to us is less than 600 light years across - tiny compared to the Milky Way.
The researchers say it might just be one of many building blocks of a galaxy which is now much larger.
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