In a single work week, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope broke the record for the oldest galaxy ever observed
James Webb Space Telescope broke the record for the oldest galaxy ever observed by nearly 100 million years.
Light from the galaxy, known as GLASS-z13, is 13.5 billion years old, dating back to when the universe was young.
Webb’s instruments could help astronomers see even older, more distant galaxies than this one.
The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s new infrared heavyweight, peered into the vast expanse and found a 13.5 billion-year-old galaxy, which researchers believe is the oldest galaxy ever detected. The powerful telescope’s science operations began last week.
The spinning collection of stars, gas, and dust bound together by gravity dates to 300 million years after the Big Bang. This beats the previous record for the most distant and oldest galaxy ever detected by 100 million years, a record which was held by a galaxy known as GN-Z1. When GN-Z1 was spotted by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2016, the galaxy’s light had taken 13.4 billion years to reach Hubble.
Researchers from the Harvard and Smithsonian Center of Astrophysics shared their findings about the new record-holder galaxy, called GLASS-z13, in a duo of preprints published Wednesday. The scientists also identified another galaxy that is roughly the same age, called GLASS-z11, which also trumped previous records.
“We found two very compelling candidates for extremely distant galaxies,” Rohan Naidu, one of the researchers who detected GLASS-z13 in Webb’s data, told New Scientist. “If these galaxies are at the distance we think they are, the universe is only a few hundred million years old at that point.”
Researchers told New Scientist the two galaxies are also relatively small compared to our own Milky Way galaxy, which is 100,000 light-years in diameter. GLASS-z13 is approximately 1,600 light-years wide, while GLASS z-11 is 2,300 light-years.
“With the advent of JWST, we now have an unprecedented view of the universe thanks to the extremely sensitive NIRCam instrument,” researchers explained in the preprint.
It’s still early days for discoveries from the powerful observatory, which launched on Christmas Day in 2021 and began science operations last week.
NASA says Webb is able to peer further and discover galaxies as far back as the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang, helping astronomers understand more about galaxy evolution throughout the entire age of the universe.
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