Astronomers using the Hubble Space Telescope have detected the most distant star ever viewed, a blue behemoth located more than halfway across the universe.
The star, officially called MACS J1149+2223 Lensed Star-1, has been nicknamed Icarus.
It was a hundredfold more distant than any other lone star previously detected, according to Patrick Kelly, an astrophysicist at the University of Minnesota.
According to a report published by the Space Telescope Science Institute, which operates the Hubble, the star is so far away, its light has taken 9 billion years to reach Earth.
Kelly said the nickname stuck because the star will appear to grow brighter and then eventually disappear, like Icarus in Greek mythology, whose waxed and feathered wings melted when he flew too close to the sun.
To spot the star, scientists took advantage of a phenomenon called "gravitational lensing" — the bending of light by massive galaxy clusters in the line of sight, which magnifies more distant celestial objects. This makes dim, faraway objects visible that otherwise would be undetectable.
"We will now be able to study in detail what the universe was like, and specifically, how stars evolved and what their natures are — almost all the way back to the earliest stages of the universe and the first generations of stars," Kelly said.
In 2020, NASA plans to launch Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope, a more powerful observatory that will find other distant stars like this one.