Here's your clearest view yet of star formation in the early universe

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Spotting anything at the edge of the known universe is difficult, but scientists have just managed to get a surprisingly sharp view. They've used the ALMA telescope array's imaging and spectral info to visualize a galaxy about 11.4 billion light years away (2.4 billion years after the Big Bang) in unprecedented detail -- enough to see clumps of stars that were still forming at the time. The key was taking advantage of a special gravitational lensing effect, an Einstein ring, where Earth is in perfect alignment with both the target galaxy and an in-between galaxy distorting and magnifying the target's light. Researchers used modeling to correct for that distortion and see what the ancient celestial body really looked like. It's not a perfect picture (the intermediary galaxy's black hole is obscuring things), but it's still humanity's best peek yet at what was happening well before our planet even existed.

[Image credit: ALMA (NRAO/ESO/NAOJ)/Y. Tamura (The University of Tokyo)/Mark Swinbank (Durham University)]

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