Houston (TX) - A NASA satellite has observed a gamma-ray burst from an ancient star that died when the universe was only 630 million years old.
The event, known as GRB 090423, was the most distant cosmic explosion ever recorded.
"The Swift [satellite] was designed to catch these very distant bursts," explained Swift lead scientist Neil Gehrels. "The incredible distance to this burst exceeded our greatest expectations - it was a true blast from the past."
Gamma-ray bursts typically occur when massive stars run out of nuclear fuel. As their cores collapse into a black hole or neutron star, massive gas jets are released into space where they interact with residual gas matter and generate an afterglow visible on multiple spectrums.
According to Derek Fox of Pennsylvania State University, the burst was most likely caused by the explosion of a huge star.
"We're seeing the demise of a star - and probably the birth of a black hole - in one of the universe's earliest stellar generations," said Fox.
Guido Chincarini of University of Milan-Bicocca, Italy, determined that the "burst" exploded 13.035 billion light-years away. Chincarini observed the explosion from the Galileo National Telescope on La Palma in the Canary Islands.
"It's an incredible find. What makes it even better is that a telescope named for Galileo made this measurement during the year in which we celebrate the 400th anniversary of Galileo's first astronomical use of the telescope," added Chincarini.