Four galaxies that existed more than 13 billion years ago have been identified and confirmed by scientists as the oldest known so far.
These galaxies were present about 350 million years after the Big Bang, when the universe was only 2% of its current age.
The confirmation comes from data taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), which is the largest and most powerful telescope ever built.
Previously, images taken by JWST tagged these galaxies as potential candidates from the early universe, but experts have used a technique known as spectroscopy, which measures light to determine the speed and composition of objects in space, to calculate the age of these galaxies, called JADES -GS-z10-0, GIADA-GS-z11-0, GIADA-GS-z12- and GIADA-GS-z13-0.
Experts said their findings confirm their status as the oldest galaxies ever observed.
Dr Emma Curtis-Lake, Webb Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire and lead author of one of two scientific papers published as a preprint, said: ‘It was crucial to show that these galaxies do indeed inhabit the early universe, as closer galaxies are very likely to masquerade as very distant galaxies.
“To see the revealed spectrum as we had hoped, confirming that these galaxies are at the very edge of our view, some further away than Hubble could see, is an extremely exciting result for the mission.”
He added: ‘This confirms that we are at the new frontier of our investigations into the birth of galaxies.’
More than 80 astronomers from 10 countries were involved in research under the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) program.
The data comes from two onboard JWST instruments, the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) and the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), which were developed to search for the oldest and faintest galaxies in the universe.
Professor Andrew Bunker, professor of astrophysics at Oxford University, said: ‘Our observations suggest that the formation of the first stars and galaxies started very early in the history of the universe.’
For the studies, the team focused on a small patch of sky for 10 days.
JADES astronomers were able to observe this patch of sky in nine different infrared wavelength ranges.
The image reveals nearly 100,000 galaxies, each billions of light-years away, in a speck of sky equivalent to looking at a cell phone screen across a football field, according to the researchers.
Astronomers were able to identify the very first galaxies by analyzing their “distinctive band” colors, which are visible in infrared light but invisible in other wavelengths.
Brant Robertson, of the University of California Santa Cruz, who is a co-author of the study, said: ‘For the first time, we discovered galaxies just 350 million years after the Big Bang, and we can be absolutely confident of their fantastic distances. .
“Finding these first galaxies in such stunningly beautiful images is a special experience.”