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

The James Webb Space Telescope has detected a distant reddish galaxy shining just 350 million years after the birth of the universe 13.8 billion years ago, surprising astronomers struggling to figure out how stars and galaxies could form so quickly in the aftermath of the Big Bang, researchers said Thursday. .

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

What appears to be the most distant galaxy ever detected appears as a small red dot in this James Webb Space Telescope image. Data analysis indicates that the galaxy was shining just 350 million years after the birth of the Big Bang of the Universe, about 50 million years before the previous record holder.

NASA, European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, and Tommaso Treo (UCLA); Image processing: Zolt G. Levay (STScI)

No one yet knows when the first stars were turned on after the so-called “Dark Ages” ended and light first began traveling freely through the universe. “I think anything 100 million years ago would be really strange,” Garth Illingworth, Webb astronomer and professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, told reporters.

“We mostly thought a few hundred million years ago was likely where the first things formed,” he said. “But it’s possible that these galaxies are so massive that they could push us back before those 200. That’s really a big open question — when did the first stars form? And so these galaxies, I think, are going to be an explorer for that.”

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

As the name suggests, extremely distant galaxies are found in light that is gravitationally amplified by the mass of a closer galaxy cluster. The two observations span Hubble’s previous record holder, galaxy GN-z11, dating back about 400 million years.

The age of the newly discovered galaxies has not been fully confirmed — additional spectral analysis is required for that — but astronomers said the observations show clear signs of several potentially older galaxies, which could push star formation back closer to the Big Bang.

The second galaxy discovered by Webb dates back to 450 million years after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago. The larger galaxies in the image are members of a closer galaxy cluster. Light from much more distant galaxies has been amplified, or gravitationally reflected, by the intervening cluster’s massive mass.

NASA, European Space Agency, Canadian Space Agency, and Tommaso Treo (UCLA); Image processing: Zolt G. Levay (STScI)

“These galaxies should have started coming together perhaps only 100 million years after the Big Bang,” Illingworth said in a statement to NASA. “No one would have expected the Dark Ages to end so soon. The primordial universe would have been just one hundredth of its current age. It is a fraction of time in the evolving universe that is 13.8 billion years old.”

Tommaso Trio, principal investigator for the GLASS project and professor at UCLA, said the survey was intended “to be a way for the astronomical community to take a quick look at the surprises the universe has in store for us.”

“The universe and JWST did not let us down,” he said. “Once we started taking in the data, we discovered that there are many more luminous, distant galaxies out there than we had anticipated. Somehow the universe managed to form galaxies faster and earlier than we thought.

“Only 100 million years after the Big Bang, there are a lot of galaxies out there. The JWST has opened up a new frontier, bringing us closer to understanding how it all began. And we’re just beginning to explore it.”

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

The extremely low temperature is required to enable the telescope to do this Dim light capture That stretched into the infrared region of the spectrum through the expansion of space itself over the lifetime of the universe.

Launched on Christmas Day Last year, JWST entered its fifth month of science operations.

“JWST was a gift that took months to untangle and the result is that the observatory is in almost every respect stronger than our pre-launch expectations,” said Jane Rigby, Web Operations project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

“Images are sharper, pointing and pointing are more stable, with darker skies, darker backgrounds, and greater and better sensitivity.” She added that the preliminary results of the GLASS project “are just some of the flood of new discoveries that are pouring in. As we had hoped,” she added.

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