The James Webb Deep Field image and an image of what is believed to be the oldest galaxy found to date. T. Treu/GLASS-JWST/NASA/CSA/ESA/STScI.

James Webb Finds Most Distant Galaxy Ever Observed

A new analysis of data from the James Webb Space Telescope reveals the most galaxy ever observed, dating back 300 million years after the big bang. This means it is the "oldest --youngest-- galaxy ever discovered.

Scientists who analyzed data from the James Webb Space Telescope yesterday said they might have discovered an ancient galaxy 13.5 billion years ago, just a week after its first images were released.
Rohan Naidu of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics says the galaxy, called GLASS-z13, dates back 300 million years after the Big Bang.

“We’re potentially looking at the most distant starlight that anyone has ever seen,” he said.

We can only see the distant past by gazing back into the distant universe since the farther away the object is from us, the longer it takes for its light to reach us.

In spite of the fact that GLASS-z13 may have formed sometime within the first 300 million years of the universe, it is uncertain exactly when it occurred.

The distant galaxy was discovered in so-called “early release” data from the telescope’s main infrared imaging instrument, called NIRcam, but the discovery of the galaxy wasn’t immediately announced.

It appears in the visible spectrum as a blob of red with white at its center, which is part of a wider view of the distant cosmos called a “deep field.”

An international team of 25 astronomers, including Mr. Naidu, has published their findings in a scientific journal.

Currently, the research is on the preprint server arXiv, so it has not yet been peer-reviewed- but it has already caught the attention of global astronomers. There are two different papers which you can access here and here.

“Astronomy records are crumbling already, and more are shaky,” tweeted NASA’s chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen.

“Yes, I tend only to cheer once science results in clear peer review. But, this looks very promising,” he added.

The same data was analyzed by a team of astronomers led by Marco Castellano, so Naidu said they were confident in their conclusions.

https://twitter.com/physicsJ/status/1549780839772217345

The Future is bright

One of Webb’s greatest possibilities is finding galaxies that formed after the Big Bang, some 13.8 billion years ago.

Due to their distance from Earth, the light from these objects has been stretched and shifted to the infrared region of the light spectrum by the time it reaches us, which Webb is capable of detecting with unprecedented clarity.

Through the analysis of this distant universe’s infrared data, Mr. Naidu and colleagues searched for signs of extremely distant galaxies.

All photons- packets of energy- that fall below a certain wavelength of infrared are absorbed by the universe’s neutral hydrogen.

The team was able to detect the existence of these most distant galaxies by analyzing data collected through different infrared filters pointed at the same region.

“We searched all the early data for galaxies with this very striking signature, and these were the two systems that had by far the most compelling signature,” said Mr. Naidu.

There are two of these, one being GLASS-z13 and the other being GLASS-z11, which is not as ancient as GLASS-z13.

“There’s strong evidence, but there’s still work to be done,” said Mr. Naidu.

Webb’s managers have been requested to give the team telescope time for spectroscopy to measure the precise distance.

“Right now, our guess for the distance is based on what we don’t see- it would be great to have an answer for what we do see,” said Mr. Naidu.

However, the team has already discovered some surprising properties.

Mr. Naidu points out that the galaxy has the mass of a billion Suns, which is “potentially very surprising” given how soon after the Big Bang it formed.

With its launch last December and full operation last week, Webb has become the most powerful space telescope ever built, heralding a new era of astronomical discovery.


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Written by Ivan Petricevic

I've been writing passionately about ancient civilizations, history, alien life, and various other subjects for more than eight years. You may have seen me appear on Discovery Channel's What On Earth series, History Channel's Ancient Aliens, and Gaia's Ancient Civilizations among others.

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