James Webb telescope finds two of the oldest, most distant galaxies
One early galaxy discovered by a space telescope, according to NASA, may have formed 350 million years after the Big Bang.
Bright, early galaxies that were previously hidden from view are being discovered by NASA's James Webb space telescope, including one that may have formed just 350 million years after the big bang.
If the findings were confirmed, this newly discovered cluster of stars would surpass the Hubble space telescope's determination of the most distant galaxy, which currently holds the record at 400 million years after the universe's creation, according to astronomers.
The Webb telescope, which was put into operation last December to replace Hubble, is showing that stars may have formed a few million years earlier than previously thought.
An international team under the direction of Rohan Naidu of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics published a detailed account of Webb's most recent findings in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.
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The article goes into detail about two extraordinarily bright galaxies, the first of which is believed to have formed 350 million years after the big bang and the second 450 million years later. Naidu stated that Webb would need to make more infrared observations before claiming a new record holder.
Scientists said at a NASA news conference that although some researchers claim to have found galaxies even closer to the creation of the universe 13.8 billion years ago, those candidates have not yet been confirmed. They noted that some of those might be later galaxies imitating earlier ones.
“This is a very dynamic time,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a co-author of the article published Thursday. “There have been lots of preliminary announcements of even earlier galaxies, and we’re still trying to sort out as a community which ones of those are likely to be real.”
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Tommaso Treu of the University of California, Los Angeles, a chief scientist for Webb’s early release science program, said the evidence presented so far “is as solid as it gets” for the galaxy believed to have formed 350 million years after the big bang. If the findings are verified and more early galaxies are out there, Raidu and his team wrote that Webb “will prove highly successful in pushing the cosmic frontier all the way to the brink 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 under the limits of what Hubble could do."
“They were right there waiting for us,” she told reporters. “So that’s a happy surprise that there are lots of these galaxies to study.”
The $10 billion observatory, the biggest and most potent telescope ever launched into space, is 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth in a solar orbit. Over the summer, full science operations started, and since then, NASA has published a number of stunning images of the cosmos.