James Webb Telescope detects the most distant galaxy

The light travelling from far-off galaxies extends to longer wavelengths due to the universe’s expansion.

The finding of the two oldest and furthest galaxies yet observed dating from just 300 million years after the Big Bang was revealed by an international team of scientists. These findings, obtained with NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), significantly advance our understanding of the early Universe.

The JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) team made the discoveries. Daniel Eisenstein is a Principal Investigator of the observation programme that identified these galaxies and one of the team leaders of JADES at the Centre for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian (CfA). Zihao Wu, a Harvard PhD candidate at CfA, and Research Scientists Ben Johnson and Phillip Cargile also had significant roles to play.

The light travelling from far-off galaxies extends to longer wavelengths due to the universe’s expansion. For these two galaxies, the impact is so strong that it shifts their ultraviolet light to infrared wavelengths, which are only visible to JWST. More distant galaxies are also viewed as they were earlier since light takes time to travel.

JADES-GS-z14-0 and JADES-GS-z14-1 are the names of the two record-breaking galaxies; the former is the most distant of the two. JADES-GS-z14-0 is notable not just for setting a new distance record but also for its size and brightness.

The size of the galaxy clearly proves that most of the light is being produced by large numbers of young stars,

Rather than material falling onto a supermassive black hole in the galaxy’s center, which would appear much smaller.

Eisenstein, a Harvard professor

The extraordinary brightness together with the fact that this high luminosity is being driven by young stars makes JADES-GS-z14-0 the most compelling evidence for the fast development of huge, large-scale galaxies in the early Universe to date.

JADES-GS-z14-0 now becomes the archetype of this phenomenon,

It is stunning that the Universe can make such a galaxy in only 300 million years.

Dr. Stefano Carniani

Over the first two years of the expedition, evidence for unusually energetic early galaxies has been increasing, even in the initial JWST photos. This pattern defies the predictions of most scientists about theories of galaxy formation that existed before to the launch of JWST.

When JADES-GS-z14-0 was initially discovered more than a year ago, the JADES team was perplexed by it since it seemed to be located near enough to a foreground galaxy in the sky for them to be unsure that the two were not neighbours. However, in October 2023, the JADES team utilised filters specifically made to better separate the earliest galaxies and carried out even deeper imaging for five full days with the JWST Near-Infrared Camera on a single field.

We just couldn’t see any plausible way to explain this galaxy as being merely a neighbor of the more nearby galaxy,

Dr. Kevin Hainline

The galaxy is situated in an area where an ultra-deep observation was carried out by the JWST Mid-Infrared Instrument. Its luminosity at intermediate infrared wavelengths indicates that early Universe hydrogen and even oxygen atoms were emitting light.

Despite being so young, the galaxy is already hard at work creating the elements familiar to us on Earth

Zihao Wu

Emboldened, the team then obtained a spectrum of each galaxy and confirmed their hopes that JADES-GS-z14-0 was indeed a record-breaking galaxy and that the fainter candidate, JADES-GS-z14-1, was nearly as far away.

A third research examines the development of this early population of galaxies, headed by Ben Johnson and University of California-Santa Cruz professor Brant Robertson.

This amazing object shows that galaxy formation in the early Universe is very rapid and intense,

JWST will allow us to find more of these galaxies, perhaps when the universe was even younger. It is a marvelous opportunity to study how galaxies get started.


Source: Centre for Astrophysics-Harvard and Smithsonian News

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