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University of Minnesota professor's team discovers farthest star ever recorded

Icarus was discovered thanks to a cosmic quirk.
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A research team led by a University of Minnesota professor has discovered the farthest individual star ever seen from Earth.

The discovery, published on Tuesday in the scientific journal Nature Astronomy, was made by a team headed up by University of Minnesota assistant professor of physics and astronomy Patrick Kelly.

They spotted an enormous blue star, nicknamed Icarus, thanks to a "quirk of nature" called "gravitational lensing" that amplifies the distant star's glow, according to a press release.

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Using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope, they were able pinpoint the star's location at a time when it would otherwise be impossible to see.

"This is the first time we’re seeing a magnified, individual star," Kelly said.

"You can see individual galaxies out there, but this star is at least 100 times farther away than the next individual star we can study, except for supernova explosions."

What is gravitational lensing?

According to NASA, the star was able to be seen thanks to gravity, which caused the clusters of galaxies between Earth and Icarus to create a "natural lens in space, bending and amplifying light."

Icarus seen in 2016 thanks to gravitational lensing, whereas it couldn't be seen five years earlier.

Icarus seen in 2016 thanks to gravitational lensing, whereas it couldn't be seen five years earlier.

As NASA explains: "Sometimes light from a single background object appears as multiple images. The light can be highly magnified, making extremely faint and distant objects bright enough to see."

The lens that allowed the team to see Icarus was created by a galaxy cluster about 5 billion light-years from Earth.

"By combining the strength of this gravitational lens with Hubble’s exquisite resolution and sensitivity, astronomers can see and study Icarus," NASA said.

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