JWST breaks its own record again for most distant galaxy

Within the first 6 months of its operation, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) broke the record for the most distant galaxy we have observed.

It’s now broken that record again, giving us a deeper insight into the early universe.

Two galaxies, dubbed JADES-GS-z14-0 and JADES-GS-z14-1, are so far away that their light has reached us from a time when the universe was only 290 million years old – that is roughly 2% of the universe’s 13.8-billion-year lifetime.

The previous record-holder, JADES-GS-z13-0, is from 325 million years after the birth of the universe.

The new galaxies’ discovery is described in a pre-print paper.

See here a full-sized image from the JWST’s NIRCam instrument showing the location in the sky of JADES-GS-z14-0, the older of the two newly discovered galaxies.

Not only is it the new record holder, JADES-GS-z14-0 is also surprisingly bright.

“The size of the galaxy clearly proves that most of the light is being produced by large numbers of young stars, rather than material falling onto a supermassive black hole in the galaxy’s centre, which would appear much smaller,” says lead author Daniel Eisenstein, a professor at Harvard University.

JADES-GS-z14-0 represents the best evidence yet to help explain the rapid formation of large galaxies so soon after the cosmos was born.

“JADES-GS-z14-0 now becomes the archetype of this phenomenon,” says lead author Stefano Carniani of the Scuola Normale Superiore in Italy. “It is stunning that the universe can make such a galaxy in only 300 million years.”

Brightness at certain infrared wavelengths suggests that the galaxy is rich in hydrogen and even oxygen.

Graph on black background
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Joseph Olmsted (STScI) / S. Carniani (Scuola Normale Superiore), JADES Collaboration.

“Despite being so young, the galaxy is already hard at work creating the elements familiar to us on Earth,” says Zihao Wu, from the University of Arizona in the US, a co-author on a second pre-print paper about the finding.

“This amazing object shows that galaxy formation in the early universe is very rapid and intense, and JWST will allow us to find more of these galaxies, perhaps when the universe was even younger,” says University of California, Santa Cruz researcher Ben Johnson, co-author on a third pre-print paper about the discovery. “It is a marvellous opportunity to study how galaxies get started.”

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