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In a discovery that sheds light on the timetable of how galaxies were formed, astronomers say they've found the most distant galaxy ever detected, 14 billion light-years away.

The discovery of the still-unnamed system pushes back the earliest known time of galaxy birth to within a billion years of the Big Bang thought to have formed the universe 15 billion years ago.An extremely faint galaxy near the constellation Virgo, the system may offer clues to the formation of the Milky Way, which contains our solar system.

Astronomers at the California Institute of Technology said the galaxy was found during observation of an even more distant quasar, one of the brightest bodies in the universe.

The galaxy was found through indirect measurements, said Caltech researcher Thomas Barlow.

"We essentially see the shadow of the galaxy in the spectrum of the quasar," Barlow said. "We don't think we've seen the galaxy directly. People at another team think they've seen an image of it, but that's unconfirmed."

When scientists look at distant parts of the universe, they are essentially looking back in time, because an image billions of light-years away has taken billions of years to reach the Earth.

The glimpse back in time tells scientists "what galaxies were like when the universe was that young," he said.

The Caltech team reported it saw amounts of carbon, oxygen, silicon, aluminum and iron, but only in tiny quantities.