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The Hubble telescope has detected what astronomers think may be the oldest galaxy ever observed.

Pushing the telescope to its limits, scientists spotted the galaxy created not long after the Big Bang.

The finding appears today in the journal Nature.

The galaxy's Australian discoverer says it will help astronomers understand more about the origins of the universe.

"This is like looking back and seeing yourself as a toddler... it's a time machine," says Dr Garth Illingworth, an astronomer at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

"We're going back to seeing our own universe as it was when it was young."

His team found the galaxy after focusing the Hubble telescope on one tiny part of the night sky for 87 hours.

Illingworth says the freshly discovered galaxy is tiny.

"Something only a hundredth the size of the Milky Way in existence just 500 million years after the Big Bang," he says.

"So we're looking back through 96 per cent of all time, through the universe to when the universe was only 4 per cent of its current age."

"It actually is a very young galaxy. It would have only been in existence for probably 200 million years at that time.

"Our Milky Way has been in existence for probably 13,000 million years or more.

"So we are looking back to when it was just a tiny galaxy forming stars, a very blue, bright object, dramatically forming a lot of stars at that time."

The galaxy is 13.2 billion light years away, which Illingworth says is the earliest time that astronomers have been able to see so far. He says they are getting closer to when the very first stars and galaxies formed.

"They probably formed about 200 million years after the Big Bang. That's only around 1 per cent of the age of the universe," he says.

"One of the other fascinating results that came out of this study is that we could compare the rate at which stars are being born in the universe at this time.

"What is amazing is that we see that just in this short period of time in the universe, the amount of star birth in the universe grew by 10 times and there are these major changes occurring.

"So that's a very important diagnostic of how galaxies built up and when they built up."

These images are as far as the Hubble telescope can go.

To see any earlier stars or galaxies astronomers will have to wait until NASA launches the new James Webb telescope which is still being built.

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