The galaxy cluster -- known as JKCS041 -- is located about 10.2 billion light years from Earth and beats the previous record holder by about a billion light years.
Astronomers say galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound objects in the universe and finding such a large structure at such a very early epoch can reveal important information about how the universe evolved.
"This object is close to the distance limit expected for a galaxy cluster," said Stefano Andreon of the National Institute for Astrophysics in Milan, Italy, who led the study. "We don't think gravity can work fast enough to make galaxy clusters much earlier."
Study co-author Ben Maughan of Britain's University of Bristol added: "This discovery is exciting because it is like finding a Tyrannosaurus Rex fossil that is much older than any other known, One fossil might just fit in with our understanding of dinosaurs, but if you found many more, you would have to start rethinking how dinosaurs evolved. The same is true for galaxy clusters and our understanding of cosmology."
The research is to appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Astronomy and Astrophysics.
Copyright 2009 by United Press International.