NASA’s Webb Space Telescope is finding bright, early galaxies that were hitherto hidden from view, including one that may have formed as little as 350 million years after the Big Bang that created cosmic space.
Astronomers said Thursday that if the results are verified, this newly discovered multitude of stars would surpass the most distant galaxy identified by the Hubble Space Telescope, a record set 400 million years after the universe began.
Launched last December as a successor to Hubble, the Webb telescope indicates that stars may have formed earlier than previously thought, perhaps within a couple million years of their creation.
Webb’s latest discoveries were detailed in the Astrophysical Journal Letters by an international team led by Rohan Naidu of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The article elaborates on two exceptionally bright galaxies, the first believed to have formed 350 million years after the Big Bang and the other 450 million years later.
Naidu said Webb needs more infrared observations before claiming a new distance record holder.
Although some researchers report discovering galaxies even closer to the creation of the universe 13.8 billion years ago, those candidates have yet to be verified, the scientists emphasized at a NASA news conference. Some of them could be later galaxies mimicking earlier ones, they noted.
“This is a very dynamic time,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a co-author of the paper published Thursday. “There have been many preliminary announcements of even earlier galaxies, and we are still trying to work out as a community which of these are likely to be real.”
Tommaso Treu of the University of California, Los Angeles, chief scientist for Webb’s early launch science program, said the evidence presented so far “is as strong as it gets” for the galaxy, which is believed to have formed 350 million years after spacecraft. Big Bang.
If the findings are verified and there are more early galaxies, Raidu and his team wrote that Webb “will be highly successful in pushing the cosmic frontier to the brink of the Big Bang.”
“When and how the first galaxies formed remains one of the most intriguing questions,” they said in their paper.
NASA’s Jane Rigby, a project scientist with Webb, noted that these galaxies “lurked just below the limits of what Hubble could do.”
“They were there waiting for us,” he told reporters. “So it’s a happy surprise that there are so many of these galaxies to study.”
The $10 billion observatory, the world’s largest and most powerful telescope ever sent into space, is in a solar orbit that is 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth. Full science operations began over the summer, and since then NASA has released a series of stunning snapshots of the universe.
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