The deeper that astronomers peer into the universe, the stranger and more extreme it seems. New instruments and techniques have recently uncovered a whole new set of cosmic superlatives: objects whose size, age, or behavior go beyond anything seen before. Here is a sampling of the latest record holders.
DEADLIEST BLAST In the binary galaxy 3C321, an enormous black hole pummels a neighboring galaxy with a high-energy jet (illustrated here) brimming with X-rays and gamma rays. If any Earth-like planets lie nearby, their atmospheres will probably be destroyed by the blast.
FARTHEST GALAXY This 13-billion-year-old galaxy (circled in this image from Hubble) formed 700 million years after the Big Bang, but its light is just now reaching us. As a result, we can see the bright, star-forming days of its youth.
FASTEST FUGITIVE ?HE 0437-5439 (drawn here) is a star traveling at 1.6 million miles per hour away from the Milky Way. Astronomers believe it was shot from the Large Magellanic Cloud by an as-yet-unseen black hole.
MOST HELLISH PLANET Charcoal-black world HD 149026b (illustrated here) absorbs most of the radiation it gets from its very nearby star, pushing temperatures to 3700 degrees Fahrenheit, above the boiling point of lead.
OLDEST NEIGHBORS They may not look a day over a billion, but asteroids 234 Barbara, 387 Aquitania, and 980 Anacostia (much like the asteroids drawn below) have mineral signatures putting them back 4.55 billion years.
BIGGEST PILEUP Massive galaxies like ours usually form when smaller galaxies collide. NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope captured a collision of four galaxies within a cluster called CL0958+4702. The result of this merger will be 10 times the size of the Milky Way.