SANTA CRUZ, Calif.-- - Astronomers at UC Santa Cruz discovered galaxies so bright and far away that they can actually tell us more about where we came from.
"It's amazing it's as though we were looking back on our own lives to when we were toddlers to see how we were developing," said Garth Illingworth, the leading astronomer and astronomy professor at UC Santa Cruz.
"What we have done here is look back through 96 percent of the life of the universe through 13.2 billion years to when the galaxies were only 500 million years after the big bang," Illingworth said.
For an entire year, astronomers used the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to look at a portion of the sky, the size of a full moon, to find tens of thousands of galaxies. The brightest ones they found are among the most distant galaxies ever seen.
"Here we're going so far away into the universe, and as a result, the light has taken 13 billion years to reach us," said Illingworth. "So this is pushing back right to the beginnings of time."
As Illingworth puts it, we've mastered time travel.
"You effectively can look back in time because that light has taken most of the life of the universe to cross the universe and reach us," he said.
However, Hubble is limited, Illingworth said, because it can't reach more than 500 million years after the Big Bang.
But these bright galaxies they did uncover are the baby steps to our universe's infancy, Illingworth concluded.
The astronomers say they are in the process of building an even more powerful telescope that could potentially reach 200 million years after the big bang, which were when the first galaxies formed.
The completion of that telescope is expected by 2018.