Webb’s telescope may have found the oldest galaxy, GLASS-z13

By Jelou Rodriguez

Astronomers believe that the universe was born after a massive explosion that is known as the ‘Big Bang’. The celestial bodies that we see are just small fractions of the bodies that exist in this universe, and we might as well not perceive the celestial anatomies far from our reach.

Photo courtesy of MYSA and NASA

Just a week after its first images were shown to the world, the James Webb Space Telescope may have found a galaxy that existed 13.5 billion years ago, known as GLASS-z13. This galaxy is one of the furthest glimpses and discoveries we had in outer space.

According to Rohan Naidu of the Harvard Center for Astrophysics, the galaxy known as GLASS-z13 was formed 300 billion years after the Big Bang, which is around 100 million years earlier than any other object previously detected.

"We're potentially looking at the most distant starlight that anyone has ever seen," he added.

GLASS-z13 is currently one of the oldest galaxies ever discovered after the Big Bang. It has an estimated redshift of approximately z = 13.

This galaxy was spotted in a so-called "early release" data from the orbiting observatory's main infrared imager, called NIR cam – but the discovery was not revealed in the first image set published by NASA last week.

As part of the more extensive representation of the far-off cosmos known as “deep field”, the said 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, his colleagues and an additional group of 25 astronomers worldwide.

Nevertheless, the research has not yet undergone peer review and is currently available as ‘preprint’, although it has already developed interest among the astronomers and to the people across the world.

"Astronomy records are crumbling already, and more are shaky. Yes, I tend to only cheer once science results clear peer review. But, this looks very promising," tweeted NASA's chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen.

As stated by Naidu, a different group of astronomers working on the same data that is headed by Marco Castellano came to the same results, “so that gives [him] confidence”.

Finding the first galaxies that emerged after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago, is one of Webb's biggest promises.

Naidu and his colleagues untangled this infrared data of the distant universe, searching for a telltale signature of extremely distant galaxies. By using data collected through different infrared filters pointed at the same region of space, they were able to detect where these drop-offs in photons occurred, from which they inferred the presence of these most distant galaxies.

The team plans to particularly ask the Webb’s managers for telescope time so that it can use spectroscopy, an analysis of light that shows definite features to determine the object’s exact distance.

"Right now, our guess for the distance is based on what we don't see — it would be great to have an answer for what we do see," Naidu commented.

Yet amazingly, 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.

Launched last December and fully operational since last week, Webb is the most capable space telescope ever made, and astronomers are positive that it will herald a new era of discovery.



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