NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has found two bright, early galaxies, including one that may have formed around 350 million years after the Big Bang. This offers intriguing insights into the origin of the universe.
The science and other stuff to know
Launched in December 2021 as a successor to Hubble, the James Webb telescope reveals stars may have formed faster and earlier than previously thought. Detailed in a new study published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, the telescope recently captured images of two, one of the earliest galaxies that were formed right after the creation of the universe.
One of the galaxies dates about 350 million years after the Big Bang. This makes it the most distant galaxy ever discovered, according to NASA. The second new galaxy is estimated to have existed around 450 million years after the birth of the cosmos.
While 350 and 450 million years after the Big Bang may seem an unimaginably long time, it’s relatively early in the life of our universe.
“The universe is 13.8 billion years old. We’re looking back through 98 percent of all time to see a galaxy like this,” Garth Illingworth, an astronomer from the University of California, said in a press statement.
Authors of the new study note that these two newly discovered galaxies appear to be “very red.” According to the team, that’s because they are so far away and moving so fast that the light wavelengths are stretched by the expanding universe.
The new galaxies beat records set by GN-z11, the most distant galaxy identified by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2016. The galaxy was estimated to have formed around 400 million years after the universe began.
“These galaxies we’re talking about are bright. And so, they were hiding just under the limits of what Hubble could do,” Jane Rigby, an operations project scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope, said in a statement. “They were right there waiting for us. That’s a happy surprise that there are lots of these galaxies to study.”
This new discovery also changes the way astronomers understand galaxies and star formation in the early days of the universe, according to astronomers.
“Just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, there are already lots of galaxies. And the JWST has opened up a new frontier, bringing us closer to understanding how it all began,” Tommaso Treu, an astronomer at the University of California, said.
Astronomers still need to confirm the distances of these galaxies by analyzing the spectral properties of the light they emit. So, if they verify the findings and find more early galaxies are out there, the study team said JWST “will prove highly successful in pushing the cosmic frontier to the brink of the Big Bang.”