The James Webb Telescope finds two of the oldest and most distant galaxies ever seen | The James Webb Space Telescope
NASA The James Webb Space Telescope finds bright, early galaxies that have been hidden from view until now, including one that may have formed just 350 million years after the big bang.
Astronomers said Thursday that if the results are confirmed, this newly discovered cluster of stars will beat the most distant galaxy identified by the Hubble Space Telescope — a record holder that formed 400 million years after the universe began.
Launched last December as the successor to Hubble, the Webb telescope suggests that stars may have formed earlier than previously thought – perhaps within a few million years of the Big Bang.
Webb’s latest discoveries were detailed in the Astrophysical Journal Letters by an international team led by Rohan Naidu of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The article elaborates on two extremely bright galaxies, the first of which formed 350 million years after the Big Bang, and the second 450 million years after.
Naidu said Webb will need more infrared observations before it gets a new recorder.
Although some researchers claim to have discovered galaxies even closer to the creation of the universe 13.8 billion years ago, those candidates have yet to be confirmed, scientists said on NASA press conference. Some of these could be later galaxies that mimic earlier ones, they noted.
“This is a very dynamic time,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, who co-authored the paper published Thursday. “There have been many preliminary announcements of even earlier galaxies, and we are still trying as a community to determine which ones are real.”
Tommaso Treu of the University of California, Los Angeles, chief scientist for Webb’s Early Publication Science Program, said the evidence presented so far is “as strong as it gets” for a galaxy believed to have formed 350 meters after the big bang.
If there is confirmation and more early galaxies are found, Raidu and his team wrote that the Web “will prove very successful in pushing the cosmic frontier all the way to the edge of the big bang.”
“When and how the first galaxies formed remains one of the most intriguing questions,” the researchers wrote.
NASA’s Jane Rigby, a project scientist with Webb, noted that these galaxies “were hiding just below the limits of what Hubble could do.”
“They were waiting for us there,” she told reporters. “So it’s a happy surprise that there are a lot of these galaxies to study.”
The $10 billion observatory – the largest and most powerful telescope ever sent into space – is in a solar orbit 1.6 million kilometers from Earth. Full science operations began over the summer, and NASA has since made a series of announcements dazzling shots of the universe.
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