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NASA discovers one of the farthest galaxies ever

A tiny galaxy far, far, far, far away might help unlock the universe's early history.

NASA announced on Thursday that it had spotted the faint galaxy about 13 billion light-years away as part of its three-year program to investigate the universe's formative years. Five hundred times smaller than the Milky Way and still evolving, it's "one of the farthest galaxies ever seen," NASA says.

The study's leader, Adi Zitrin of the California Institute of Technology, explains why it's important:

This galaxy is an example of what is suspected to be an abundant, underlying population of extremely small, faint objects that existed about 500 million years after the big bang, the beginning of the universe... The discovery is telling us galaxies as faint as this one exist, and we should continue looking for them and even fainter objects, so that we can understand how galaxies and the universe have evolved over time. [NASA]

NASA was able to make the discovery by turning massive galaxy clusters into a "giant cosmic magnifying glass" for the Hubble telescope. These clusters are so large that their gravity forces light to deflect off them, creating lenses for Hubble to peer through. You can read more about this remarkable process over at NASA. --Nico Lauricella