A new radio telescope in a desert in Western Australia has discovered a galaxy located nearly 5 billion light years away.

Six of the 36 dishes of CSIRO's new radio telescope, dubbed Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder, or ASKAP, have captured a signal emitted prior to the birth of the solar system with the cosmic radio waves coming from the galaxy known as PKS B1740-517.

The discovery has shown that the new radio telescope can detect galaxies that other telescopes can't. The signal carries with it the imprint of cold hydrogen gas, a raw material for the formation of stars and which abounds in most galaxies that the signal passed through prior to making its way here.

Astronomers are capable of detecting a galaxy from its hydrogen gas regardless if the starlight is hidden by dust or is faint. The signal was tiny but it clearly stood out in the ASKAP data. Many radio telescopes are hampered by radio interference, or unwanted signals, but the site where ASKAP is located is exceptionally quiet.

The desert environment is far from humans and this is exactly what astronomers need. Most other places are not conducive for detecting signals because everyone uses their mobile phones which results in the blocking out of the signals.

"At many observatories, this dip would have been hidden by background radio noise, but our site is so radio quiet it stood out clearly," said James Allison, from CSIRO. "These latest research findings are demonstrating that ASKAP can do what other telescopes can't."

Simon Johnston, head of astrophysics at CSIRO said that he anticipates other ground breaking discoveries after another 30 satellites come online by next year saying that the new discovery is just the tip of the iceberg of what scientists could find.

Johnston said that the discovery also makes him feel confident that the telescope could detect galaxies that cannot be detected by other telescope with the discovery being among the furthest signals that have been detected making scientists very excited about the results.

"We report the discovery of a new 21cm HI absorption system using commissioning data from the Boolardy Engineering Test Array (BETA) of the Australian Square Kilometre Array Pathfinder (ASKAP)," Allison and colleagues reported. "Using the 711.5-1015.5MHz band of ASKAP we were able to conduct a blind search for the 21cm line in a continuous redshift range between z= 0.4-1.0, which has, until now, remained largely unexplored."

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