Just a week after the first images of the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful ever created, it could already detect the most distant galaxy ever observed, which existed 13.5 billion years ago.
Called GLASS-z13, it appears to us as it was only about 300 million years after the Big Bang, 100 million years younger than the previous observed record, Rohan Naidoo of the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard told AFP.
He is the lead author of a study analyzing data from early observations by James Webb, which is currently ongoing. These data are posted online for all astronomers on the planet.
One of the main tasks of this brand new telescope is to observe the first galaxies formed after the Big Bang, which occurred 13.8 billion years ago.
In astronomy, seeing far is like going back in time. Sunlight, for example, takes eight minutes to reach us, so we see it as it was eight minutes ago. Thus, by looking as far as possible, we can perceive objects as they were billions of years ago.
Light from this galaxy was emitted 13.5 billion years ago.
This study has not yet been peer-reviewed, but is published as a “preprint” to be quickly available to the expert community. It has been submitted to a scientific journal for future publication, Rohan Naidu said.
But many astronomers have already enthusiastically commented on this discovery on social networks.
“Records in astronomy are already faltering,” NASA Associate Administrator for Science Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted. “Yes, I tend to applaud only peer-reviewed scientific results. But this is very promising!” he added of the study.
According to Rohan Naidu, another research team also came up with the same results, which “gives him confidence.”
– Fuzzy point in space –
The galaxy was observed with James Webb’s NiRcam instrument and was found in what is called a “deep field,” that is, a wider image taken with a long exposure to reveal the faintest lights.
The peculiarity of James Webb is that he works only in the infrared range. The light emitted by the oldest objects stretched and “reddened” along the way, passing into this wavelength, which is not visible to the human eye.
Therefore, in order to draw an image of this galaxy, the data was “translated” into the visible spectrum: then it looks like a round red shape, rather fuzzy, with a white center.
In fact, the twenty or so researchers who took part in the study studied two galaxies, the other of which is called GLASS-z11 and is less distant.
They have amazing stats for what little we already know: “They seem pretty massive,” according to Rohan Naidu, and that’s “very soon after the Big Bang.” “This is something we don’t really understand,” he added.
When exactly did they form? Impossible to say at the moment.
“There is still work to be done,” the researcher said. He and his colleagues requested more time to observe with a telescope to conduct spectroscopic analysis, a method of determining the properties of a distant object by analyzing captured light. This should confirm their distance.
The James Webb telescope was launched into space about six months ago. It costs 10 billion dollars and is located 1.5 million kilometers from us.
Fuel is enough for 20 years of operation. Thus, astronomers expect to be flooded with new cosmic discoveries for a long time to come.