The James Webb Telescope may have already found the most distant galaxy ever observed

Composite image provided by the Niels Bohr Institute of GLASS-z13 observed by the James Webb Space Telescope, the most distant ever seen. (©University of Copenhagen/AFP/Handout)

Only a week after the unveiling of first images from the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful ever designed, this could have already found the most distant galaxy ever observed that existed there is 13.5 billion years old.

Named GLASS-z13, it appears to us as it was only about 300 million years after the Big Bang, 100 million years younger than the previously observed record, Rohan Naidu of the Center told AFP. in Astrophysics from Harvard.

He is lead author of a study analyzing data from James Webb’s early observations, which is currently underway. This data is posted online for every astronomer on the planet.

Observing the first galaxies

One of the main tasks of this brand new telescope is to observe the first galaxies formed after the Big Bang, which took place 13.8 billion years ago.

In astronomy, it’s all about looking far to go back in time. For example, sunlight takes eight minutes to reach us, so we see it as it was eight minutes ago. By looking as far as possible, we can therefore perceive objects as they were billions of years ago.

The light from this galaxy was emitted 13.5 billion years ago.

“Very promising”

This study has not yet been peer-reviewed, but published as a “preprint” to be quickly available to the expert community. It has been submitted to a scientific journal for forthcoming publication, Rohan Naidu said.

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But already many astronomers enthusiastically commented on this discovery on social networks.

“Records in astronomy are already faltering,” tweeted Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science. “Yes, I tend to only applaud peer-reviewed scientific findings. But this is very promising!” he added of the study.

Another research team also concluded the same results, according to Rohan Naidu, which “gives him confidence”.

Fuzzy point in the cosmos

The galaxy was observed by James Webb’s NiRcam instrument and detected on what is called a “deep field”i.e. a wider image taken with a long exposure time to detect the faintest glows.

The special thing about James Webb is that only works in infrared. The light emitted by older objects stretched and turned “red” along the way, passing into the wavelength not visible to the human eye.

To draw a picture of this galaxy, the data has therefore been “translated” into the visible spectrum: it then appears as a red circular shape, rather fuzzy and white in the centre.

In fact, the twenty or so scientists who took part in the study studied two galaxies, the second one called GLASS-z11, which is less distant.

“Still Working”

They have surprising characteristics, given the little we already know: “They appear quite massive”, according to Rohan Naidu, and this from “very shortly after the Big Bang”. “It’s something we don’t really understand,” he added.

When exactly did they originate? Impossible to say at the moment. “There is still work to be done,” the researcher said.

He and his colleagues asked for more observing time with the telescope to perform spectroscopic analyses—a technique for determining the properties of a distant object by analyzing the captured light. This should confirm their distance.

20 years of operation

The James Webb Telescope was launched into space about six months ago. It was worth $10 billion 1.5 million miles from us.

He has enough fuel operated for 20 years. Astronomers thus expect to be inundated with new cosmic discoveries for a long time to come.

Source: © 2022 AFP

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