Newswise — A class of undergraduate astrophysics students at the University of Chicago helped discover a galaxy that dates back to a time when the universe was only 1.2 billion years old, about one-tenth of its current age.

“This galaxy that we’ve observed, by looking out and back into the past, is already grown up. It’s already formed almost a Milky Way’s worth of stars,” said Michael Gladders, a professor in UChicago’s astronomy and astrophysics department. “It’s quite mature, but at a much earlier stage in the Universe.” 

The discovery was a climactic milestone in the first iteration of a field course developed for the new astrophysics major offered by UChicago. Students in the two-quarter class formed a new research collaboration, COOL-LAMPS, and surveyed public imaging databases in search of lensed galaxies. The remarkable find was confirmed by observations from ground-based instruments: the Magellan Telescopes in Chile and the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii. 

Light emitted from faraway celestial objects takes a long time to reach Earth-side observers. That means the stars and galaxies we see in the sky appear to us as they would have existed millions, or even billions, of years ago. 

The discovered galaxy’s light comes from a time when the universe was only 1.2 billion years old, about one-tenth of its current age. By this point, the young galaxy had already accumulated a mass impressively comparable to the present-day version of our home galaxy, the Milky Way. 

Learn more on how Gladders' students pushed through pandemic barriers to carry on their research on UChicago News




The University of Chicago is a leading academic and research institution that has driven new ways of thinking since its founding in 1890. As an intellectual destination, the University draws scholars and students from around the world to its campuses and centers around the globe. The University provides a distinctive educational experience and research environment, empowering individuals to challenge conventional thinking and pursue field-defining research that produces new understanding and breakthroughs with global impact.