Astronomers tracking a mysterious blast of energy called a gamma ray burst today said they had snapped a photograph of the most distant object in the universe: a smudge 13 billion light years away.
Hawaii's Gemini Observatory caught the image earlier this month after a satellite first detected the burst.
"Our infrared observations from Gemini immediately suggested that this was an unusually distant burst, these images were the smoking gun," said Edo Berger of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
Distortions in the light signature of the object show it is 13 billion years old, or, at the speed of light, 13 billion light years away. A light-year is 10 trillion kilometres.
This makes it easily the most distant object ever seen by humanity, Mr. Berger said.
Gamma-ray bursts are luminous explosions that mostly occur when massive stars run out of fuel and begin collapsing into either a black hole or a neutron star.
"I have been chasing gamma-ray bursts for a decade, trying to find such a spectacular event," Mr. Berger said. "We now have the first direct proof that the young universe was teeming with exploding stars and newly-born black holes only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang," he said.