UNITED STATES: A scientist who studied the data revealed Wednesday that the James Webb Space Telescope may have discovered a galaxy that existed 13.5 billion years ago, just a week after its initial photographs were made public.
According to Rohan Naidu of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics, the galaxy known as GLASS-z13 was formed 300 million years after the Big Bang, which is around 100 million years earlier than any other object previously detected.
He said, “We may be looking at the farthest distant starlight anyone has ever seen.”
Since it takes longer for light from distant things to get to us, looking back at the distant universe is like seeing deep into the past.
While GLASS-z13 was a part of the universe’s early history, its actual age is still uncertain because it might have originated at any point during the first 300 million years.
The orbiting observatory’s primary infrared imager, NIRcam, picked up GLASS-z13 in so-called “early release” data. Still, the discovery was not made public in the first image set released by NASA last week.
As part of a more extensive representation of the far-off cosmos known as a “deep field,” the galaxy appears as a blob of red with white in its center when converted from infrared to visible spectrum.
The research was submitted to a science journal by Naidu and his colleagues and a group of 25 astronomers worldwide.
Even though the research has not yet undergone peer review and is only available as a “preprint,” it has already generated considerable interest among astronomers all across the world.
NASA’s chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen tweeted, “Astronomy records are crumbling already, and more are shaky.”
“Yes, I usually only applaud when science produces conclusive peer reviews. But this appears to be quite promising,” he added.
According to Naidu, a different group of astronomers working with the same data and headed by Marco Castellano came to the same results, “so that gives us confidence.”
Finding the first galaxies that emerged after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, is one of Webb’s big promises.
These are so far away from Earth that by the time their light reaches us, the cosmos has stretched it and changed it to the infrared area of the light spectrum, which Webb can detect with exceptional clarity.
Naidu and his colleagues looked through this far-off universe’s infrared data in search of a telltale indicator of very distant galaxies.
All photons, or energy packets, are absorbed by the universe’s neutral hydrogen between the item and the viewer below a specific infrared wavelength threshold.
They were able to determine the locations of these photon drop-offs and infer the presence of these most distant galaxies by analysing data gathered through several infrared filters directed at the same region of space.
These two systems had by far the most convincing signature out of all the early data that we looked for galaxies with this highly distinctive signal, according to Naidu.
The team plans to specifically ask Webb’s managers for telescope time so that it can use spectroscopy, an analysis of light that shows certain features, to determine the object’s exact distance.
It would be great to have an answer for what we can see, said Naidu. “Right now, our guess for the distance is based on what we don’t see.”
But the team has already found several unexpected features.
For instance, considering how soon after the Big Bang began, the galaxy has the mass of a billion Suns, which is “possibly quite shocking, and that is something we don’t really understand,” according to Naidu.
The most potent space telescope ever created, Webb was launched last December and has been fully operational since last week. Astronomers are confident that it will shape the future of discovery.