NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is revealing new galaxies that astronomers have never seen before, deep within the early universe.
Astronomers recently pointed JWST at an object called MACS0647-JD. It is extremely far away and light takes time to travel, so looking at such a distant object also means looking back in time. MACS0647-JD is approximately 97% of the way back to the Big Bang, within the first 400 million years of the universe.
Dan Coe, a researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute, first discovered this 10 years ago with the Hubble Space Telescope, which was previously NASA’s most powerful space observatory.
“With Hubble, it was just this pale red dot. We could say it was really small, just a tiny galaxy in the first 400 million years of the universe. Now we look with Webb and we can solve TWO objects,” Coe said in a NASA release from October.
JWST is 100 times more powerful than Hubble and its infrared lens allows it to peer much further into the deep universe and into the distant past. By comparing the new JWST image with previous Hubble images, astronomers have discovered new features of one of the oldest galaxies ever seen.
Both Hubble and JWST study the early universe through gravitational lenses. This is what happens when a cluster of distant galaxies is so massive that it warps spacetime, bending the light of distant galaxies behind it. This creates mirror images of those galaxies, reflected on us.
So the imprint of the mysterious MACS0647-JD system appears in three places in the images, above. The breakouts of these three images of the JD system, on the right, show how much clearer the JWST images are. They clearly show two different objects.
“We are actively discussing whether it is two galaxies or two groups of stars within a galaxy. We don’t know, but these are the questions Webb is designed to help us answer,” Coe said.
The research has not yet been published, but the difference between the images is stark.
JWST could reveal galaxy mergers and other invisible actions in the early universe
One of the objects is bluer, which indicates that relatively young stars are forming inside it. The other is more red, indicating an older object with more dust in the stars.
“We could see a merger of galaxies in the early universe. If this is the farthest merger, I will be truly ecstatic,” said Tiger Yu-Yang Hsiao, a doctoral student who studied the images with Coe, in the statement from the NASA. .
JWST will likely reveal even further galaxies from the very beginning of the universe. This will help scientists reconstruct the history missing from its first 400 million years.
“Up until this point, we haven’t really been able to study galaxies in the early universe in detail. We only had dozens of them before Webb. Studying them can help us understand how they evolved into those like the galaxy we live in today. And also, how the universe has evolved over time, “Rebecca Larson, another PhD student who has studied the images, said in the NASA release.
He pointed to all the other tiny points in the new JWST image – each of them is a distant galaxy.
“It’s amazing how much information we’re getting that we haven’t been able to see before,” he said, adding, “And this isn’t a deep field. This isn’t a long exposure. We haven’t even really tried to use it. this telescope to look at a point for a long time. This is just the beginning! “
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