Rare cosmic alignment provides glimpse of most distant star ever observed

Astronomers were using images taken by Hubble Space Telescope to study a supernova when they detected an unusually strong source of light later determined to be a star.


A rare cosmic alignment has offered astronomers a glimpse of a star nine billion light-years from Earth—the most distant ever observed.

The star, MACS J1149 Lensed Star 1, or simply Icarus, is a B-type star, commonly referred to as a blue supergiant. Icarus is hotter, larger, and brighter than our sun, but its distance from Earth makes it impossible for modern telescopes to spot.

However, a phenomenon called gravitational lensing rendered the supergiant visible to astronomers. In simple terms, gravitational lensing is explained by a key tenet of Einstein’s relativity: mass bends light. Massive objects, such as galaxy clusters, have strong gravitational fields—so strong that if a galaxy cluster comes between your line of sight and a distant star, the cluster’s gravitational field will bend and magnify the light from the distant star, similar to how a convex lens on a magnifying glass makes objects appear bigger.


(Photo: NASA)

Gravitational lensing typically magnifies distant objects by a magnitude of 50. However, a well-aligned individual star could theoretically boost that magnification by a factor of many thousands, as researchers wrote in an article published in Nature Astronomy.

“A single star in a foreground lens, if precisely aligned with a background star, can magnify the background star thousands of times,” reads a statement from the University of California, Berkeley. “In this case, a star about the size of our sun briefly passed directly through the line of sight between the distant star Icarus and Hubble, boosting its brightness more than 2,000 times.”


(Photo: NASA, Kelly et al.)

As it happens, the alignment of Icarus means there will likely be more gravitational lensing occurrences during which astronomers can observe the star—even ones that could magnify its brightness by 10,000 times instead of 2,000.  

“There are alignments like this all over the place as background stars or stars in lensing galaxies move around,” said Alex Filippenko, a professor of astronomy at UC Berkeley and one of many co-authors of the report. “[It offers] the possibility of studying very distant stars dating from the early universe, just as we have been using gravitational lensing to study distant galaxies... For this type of research, nature has provided us with a larger telescope than we can possibly build!”

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less
Sponsored

22 months of war - condensed in a 1-minute video

No, the Syrian civil war is not over. But it might be soon. Time for a recap

Strange Maps
  • The War in Syria has dropped off the radar, but it's not over (yet)
  • This 1-minute video shows how the fronts have moved – and stabilised – over the past 22 months
  • Watching this video may leave you both better informed, and slightly queasy: does war need a generic rock soundtrack?
Keep reading Show less

Bespoke suicide pods now available for death in style

Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.

The Sarco assisted suicide pod
Technology & Innovation

Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco! 

Keep reading Show less

How to bring more confidence to your conversations

Entrepreneur and author Andrew Horn shares his rules for becoming an assured conversationalist.

content.jwplatform.com
Videos
  • To avoid basing action on external validation, you need to find your "authentic voice" and use it.
  • Finding your voice requires asking the right questions of yourself.
  • There are 3-5 questions that you would generally want to ask people you are talking to.
Keep reading Show less