James Webb telescope may have spotted some of the most distant galaxies ever seen

Researchers say that if the initial estimates are correct, these galaxies may have formed some 350 million to 450 million years after the Big Bang occurred

November 29, 2022 by Sandipan Talukdar
James Webb Telescope
(Photo: NASA)

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is in space with the aim of finding out more about the origins of the universe, has recently spotted two objects that may be the most distant galaxies ever seen. The researchers after doing extensive scrutiny and re-evaluation have published the findings in two publications.

However, researchers are still in the process of confirming how far these galaxies are. They are trying to do this by analyzing the spectral properties of the light emitted by them. The researchers say that if the initial estimates are correct, then these galaxies may have formed some 350 million to 450 million years after the Big Bang occurred.

Expressing excitement about the findings, Jeyhan Kartaltepe, astronomer at the Rochester Institute of Technology, New York, said in a statement: “It’s been a bit of a surprise that there are so many that formed so early. And that is challenging ideas of how galaxies formed early in the Universe.”

Similar to many other galaxies that the JWST had observed, these two new-founds appear small and bright, which is suggestive of the fact that they are compact and disk-shaped objects. It is unlikely that these newly found galaxies are diffused and irregular. These also suggest that early galaxies had well-organized structures.

With an expense of $10 billion, the Webb telescope is expected to have a lifetime of 10 years in space. The Webb has a mass of 6,200 kilograms.

A primary target of the observatory will be the epoch where the early pioneering stars ended the darkness that was theorized to engulf the cosmos shortly after the Big Bang happened – a time of more than 13 billion years ago. The nuclear reactions in those celestial objects would have given birth to heavy atoms like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and sulfur, essential for forming life.

The other aim of the Webb of studying atmospheres of distant planets may help researchers judge if there are any such planets outside the solar system that are habitable. The JWST uses infrared wavelength to study the universe.

The Webb differs in several aspects from its predecessors like the Hubble. The first is the capability of the observatory as its 6.5-meter-wide golden mirror is three times wider than the primary reflector of Hubble. The enlarged reflector combined with the sensitive instrumentation of the Webb enables astronomers to have a deeper look into the space and go back farther in time than was achievable before. The large reflector has 18 segments, each having tiny motors on its back. The reflector will have to be focused so that it can receive infrared wavelengths from the early stars of the universe. The motors adjust the curvature of the reflectors.

Astronomers use ‘redshift’, which is a way of measurement signifying how far the galaxies are. The higher the redshift, the greater is the distance. The newly found distant galaxies by the JWST have redshift of 10.4-10.6 in one and 12.2-12.4 respectively. The latter one breaks the previous record of the Hubble telescope where it detected distant object with a redshift of 11. There have been other distant galaxies detected by the JWST which are under peer review that may surpass the redshift of 12.4.