Astronomers detected a hydrogen signal from a distant galaxy about 5 billion light-years from Earth. The recently discovered hydrogen signal is nearly double the previously recorded signal in 2014.
When galactic gas is heated by neighboring stars, it glows brightly. Moreover, when radiation sends these gas molecules into an excited frenzy, they absorb and release their own distinct frequencies.
Astronomers then use these distinct frequencies to differentiate the galactic gas signals detected millions of light-years from the planet.
An international team of researchers used the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Very Large Array telescope to observe the new hydrogen's radio emission.
The team found that the distant galaxy would have been home to billions of massive, young stars that are surrounded by hydrogen gas clouds.
"Due to the upgrade of the Very Large Array, this is the first time we've been able to directly measure emission from atomic hydrogen in a galaxy this far from Earth," said lead author Dr. Ximena Fernández from Rutgers University.
The hydrogen signals might have started their journey from the distant galaxy even before planet Earth existed. They would have traveled in space for 5 billion years without hitting any stellar body.
"They've fallen into the telescope and allowed us to see this distant galaxy for the very first time," added Fernández.
Hydrogen is abundant in the universe but its presence reveals much about a galaxy since it is the primary fuel used in creating stars. This means that hydrogen abundance can be a sign of a galaxy's vitality.
Deep space investigations allow astronomers to examine the galactic gas development as though they are looking back in time. Fernández' team wants to find out if the older galaxies had more gas that developed into stars compared with the new galaxies observed today.
The previous stellar hydrogen gas emission record was discovered in 2014 when Swinburne University researchers utilized Puerto Rico's Arecibo radio telescope. Like the new record, the 2014 detection was located in a distant galaxy about 3 billion light-years from the planet.
The new research was published in The Astrophysical Journal on May 31 and was made available through the pre-print server arXiv.