The Webb Space Telescope may have already broken its own record

Does anyone remember the GLASS-z13? number?

It was spotted by the James Webb Space Telescope and labeled “the oldest galaxy ever seen” and announced… Six days ago.

Yes that’s right. Even a week ago, two research papers published in the scholarly article repository arXiv (pronounced “archive”) detailed some early analyzes of images taken by JWST, The next generation of infrared eye on the universe. In the data lie two galaxies – potentially the most distant galaxies humans have ever laid eyes on. Someone called it GLASSz-13 or GL-z13 for short. (The Atlantic gave it the cute name “Glassie”).

“JWST has discovered the oldest galaxy we’ve ever seen in the universe” one of the headlines. The story spread across the web, With a tweet buzzing about it And major outlets pick up the standard find. It even got its own Wikipedia page.

In a rush of reports, Some key points have been missed. It’s not the “oldest galaxy” we’ve ever seen. It may be the oldest light We’ve found it before, but it’s likely a file small The galaxy, not more than 100 billion years in its life (important distinction). It’s also important to note that GL-z13 is currently just a “candidate” that requires further investigation – the data is very good, according to the astronomers I spoke with – but additional observations will help identify him as the record holder.

But all this may not matter.

In a slew of new research papers dropped on arXiv on Monday, astronomers have selected galaxies that might even be false. far Far from GL-z13. It is a display of the power of the revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope.

Once the researchers were given access to the first batch of Webb’s data, they began searching it for distant galaxies. Webb is better at finding these galaxies because he sees the universe in infrared light, rather than visible light Just like the Hubble Space Telescope does.

Visible light has been “redshifted” from the oldest galaxies in the universe. Since the universe has expanded since the Big Bang, the wavelengths of light are expanding. When we stretch the light that we can see with our eyes, this stretching moves it toward a red wavelength. In this case, infrared. Webb is specifically designed to capture this light.

Astronomers denote the redshift with the symbol . z. higher z The values ​​basically represent another look back in time. for example, z = 1 corresponds to about 7.7 billion years ago, while z = 10 corresponds to about 13.2 billion years old.

This red pixelated dot could be a galaxy that existed only 100 million years after the Big Bang. The scale bar is 1 kiloparsec (about 3,260 light years).

Finkelstein et al. (2022) / NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI

In papers uploaded to arXiv, at least three candidate galaxies with a span of . have been submitted z A value greater than 16. This corresponds to about 13.6 billion years ago. One of them presents a case of a galaxy at z = 16.7, which would correspond to about 250 million years after the Big Bang.

Another, summarized by astrophysicist Steve Finkelstein in This topic is Twitterdisplays a galaxy in z > 14. Finkelstein named it Maisie’s Galaxy, after his daughter.

The discoveries have astronomers on Twitter buzzing again, but where does that leave GL-z13?

Well it’s z The value is around 13 (as the name might suggest), so it’s probably Game Over for Glassy.

However, it could still become the most distant galaxy ever observed because astrophysicists need to validate what they see in the JWST data.

“Many of the candidates in these papers are not convincing [as GL-z13]said Michael Brown, an astrophysicist at Monash University in Melbourne. Care must be taken when looking at these distant galaxies, and across a large number of new papers, astronomers see different signals.

There is more uncertainty about distances when there is a gentle squabble among astrophysicists about how fast the universe is expanding. We won’t get into that here. But it’s worth noting that confirming these distant entities as real galaxies will require further observations that are very likely to come during Webb’s early years.

And yes, the Webb Space Telescope is poised to offer more candidates for the most distant galaxy ever observed. They might even drop by on arXiv tomorrow! While many will soon fade from public consciousness, each will provide a springboard for astrophysicists to piece together the first moments of our universe. Some of the questions these galaxies will answer have yet to be asked.

In fact, astrophysicists have already discovered that the early universe may be much busier than they expected. Stars may be forming at a much faster rate than some models had predicted. How did matter merge and start forming these early galaxies? We don’t know yet. But Webb, it seems, is already rewriting what we thought we knew about the beginning of, well, everything.

It is a cosmic revolution. So pack up. It will be one round of hell.

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