Science

The James Webb Space Telescope discovers what may be the most distant galaxy ever found

The James Webb Space Telescope discovers what may be the most distant galaxy ever found

The James Webb Space Telescope has spotted a distant, reddish galaxy glowing just 350 million years after the birth of the cosmos 13.8 billion years ago, surprising astronomers struggling to understand how stars and galaxies could have formed so quickly after the Big Bang, researchers said. on Thursday.

“These observations just make your head explode,” Paola Santini, co-author of the paper describing the discovery in Astrophysical Journal Letters, the announcement states. “This is a whole new chapter in astronomy. It’s like an archaeological dig, and suddenly you find a lost city or something you didn’t know about. It’s just amazing.”

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What appears to be the most distant galaxy yet discovered appears as a small red dot in this James Webb Space Telescope image. Analysis of the data shows that the galaxy shone just 350 million years after the Big Bang birth of the cosmos, about 50 million years earlier than the previous record holder.

NASA, ESA, CSA, Tommaso Treu (UCLA); image processing: Zolt G. Levay (STScI)


No one yet knows when the first stars lit up after the so-called “dark ages” ended and light began to travel freely through space. But “I think anything 100 million years ago would have been really weird,” Garth Illingworth, a Webb astronomer and professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, told reporters.

“We generally thought that a few hundred million years would probably be where the first things would form,” he said. “But these galaxies are potentially so massive that they could push us back earlier than those two hundred. This is a really big open question—when did the first stars form? And so these galaxies, I think, will be a guide to that.”

The galaxies in question are GLASS-z12, which glow 350 million years after the Big Bang, and another dating back 450 million years was discovered after just four days of analysis by the Grism Lens-Amplified Survey from Space, or GLASS, observing program.

As the name implies, extremely distant galaxies are found in light that has been gravitationally magnified by the mass of a closer galaxy cluster. These two observations border Hubble’s previous record holder, the galaxy GN-z11, which is dated to about 400 million years old.

The ages of the newly discovered galaxies have not yet been fully confirmed – this requires further spectroscopic analysis – but astronomers say the observations show clear signs of a number of potentially older galaxies, which would push star formation even closer to the Big Bang.

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Another galaxy found by Webb dates back 450 million years after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. The larger galaxies in the image are members of a closer cluster of galaxies. Light from much more distant galaxies was magnified, or gravitationally lensed, by the vast mass of the cluster between them.

NASA, ESA, CSA, Tommaso Treu (UCLA); image processing: Zolt G. Levay (STScI)


“These galaxies must have started coming together perhaps only 100 million years after the Big Bang,” Illingworth said in a NASA statement. “No one expected the Dark Ages to end so early. The primal universe would have been only one-hundredth of its current age. That’s a slice of time in a 13.8-billion-year-old evolving cosmos.”

Tommaso Treu, principal investigator of the GLASS project and a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the research was intended to “be a way for the astronomical community to quickly see what surprises the universe has in store for us. “

“Both space and JWST have not let us down,” he said. “As soon as we started taking data, we found that there were many more luminous distant galaxies than we expected. Somehow the universe managed to form galaxies faster and earlier than we thought.

“Just a few 100 million years after the Big Bang, there are many galaxies. JWST has opened a new frontier, bringing us closer to understanding how it all began. And we have only just begun to explore it.”

The James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful space observatory ever launched, equipped with a 21.3-foot-wide segmented mirror and four sensitive cameras and spectroscopic detectors that operate at less than 50 degrees above absolute zero.

Ultra-low temperature is required to make the telescope possible catch the dim light which was extended into the infrared region of the spectrum by the expansion of space itself during the life of the cosmos.

Launched on Christmas Day last year, JWST is in its fifth month of scientific operation.

“JWST was a gift that took months to unwrap, and the result is an observatory more powerful than we expected before launch,” said Jane Rigby, Webb project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“Images are sharper, pointing and guidance are more stable, with darker skies, darker backgrounds and higher, better sensitivity.” The initial results of the GLASS project, she added, “are just some of the flood of new discoveries pouring in. Just as we had hoped.”



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