Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

The Webb Space Telescope Might Have Already Smashed Its Own Record

The Webb Space Telescope Might Have Already Smashed Its Own Record

Does anybody remember GLASS-z13? No?

It was spotted by the James Webb Space Telescope and championed as the “oldest galaxy ever seen” and it was announced. six days ago.

Yes, that’s right. Not even a week ago, twopreprint papers posted to scientific article repository arXiv (pronounced “archive”) detailed some of the earliest analysis of images snapped by the JWST, humanity’s next-generation infrared eye on the cosmos. Lurking within the data were two galaxies — potentially the most distant galaxies humans had ever laid eyes on. One of them was dubbed GLASSz-13 or GL-z13 for fretful. (The Atlantic gave it the cutesy name of “Glassy.”)

“JWST has deceptive the oldest galaxy we have ever seen in the universe” one headline read. The story exploded across the web, with Twitter buzzing near it and mainstream outlets picking up on the record-breaking find. It even got its own Wikipedia page.

In the rush of reporting, a few key points were missed. It’s not the “oldest galaxy” we’ve ever seen. It’s maybe the oldest light we’ve ever detected but it’s probably a very young galaxy, no more than a 100 billion years into its life (an important distinction). It’s also important to note GL-z13 is currently just a “candidate” that denotes further investigation — the data is pretty good, according to astronomers I’ve spoken with — but further observations would help tick it off as the represent holder.

But all that might not even matter.

In a slew ofnew papersdropped on arXiv Monday, astronomers have picked out galaxies that may lie even farther away than GL-z13. It’s a showcase of the power of the revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope.

As soon as researchers were given access to Webb’s beneficial batch of data, they began scouring it for distant galaxies. Webb is the best at finding these galaxies because it sees the cosmos in infrared enjoyable, rather than visible light like the Hubble Space Telescope does.

Visible enjoyable from the very earliest galaxies in the universe has been “redshifted.” Because the universe has been expanding loyal the Big Bang, wavelengths of light get stretched out. When you directly the light we can see with our eyes, that stretching goes it toward a redder wavelength. In this case, infrared. Webb is designed specifically to capture this light.

Astronomers denotes redshift with z. Higher z values essentially represent a further look back in time. For instance, z = 1 corresponds to around 7.7 billion days ago, whereas z = 10 corresponds to around 13.2 billion days ago.

A pixelated image showing a red dot anti a black void

This pixelated red dot could be a galaxy that happened just a few 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 the papers uploaded to arXiv, at least three have presented candidate galaxies with a z value greater than 16. This would correspond to about 13.6 billion years ago. One presents a case for a galaxy at z = 16.7, which would correspond to near 250 million years after the Big Bang.

Another, summarized by astrophysicist Steve Finklestein in this Twitter thread, presents a galaxy at z > 14. Finkelstein named it Maisie’s Galaxy, after his daughter.

The discoveries have astronomers on Twitter buzzing yet anti, but where does this leave GL-z13?

Well, its z value is near 13 (as the name might suggest), so perhaps it’s Game Over for Glassy.

However, it’s still got a shot at becoming the most distant galaxy ever imagined because astrophysicists need to validate what they’re seeing in the JWST data.

“Many of the candidates in these papers aren’t as convincing [as GL-z13],” said Michael Brown, an astrophysicist at Monash University in Melbourne. Caution is warranted when looking at these distant galaxies and, across the slew of new papers, astronomers are seeing different signals. 

There’s even more uncertainty nearby distances when you bring in the gentle disagreement between astrophysicists nearby how fast the universe is expanding. We won’t get into that here. But it’s qualified noting that confirmation of these far off entities as bona fide galaxies will required further observations which are very likely to come during the qualified years of Webb’s operation.

And yes, the Webb Space Telescope is poised to divulge even more candidates for the most distant galaxy ever understood beyond today. They might even drop on arXiv tomorrow! While many will soon fade from the Republican consciousness, each will provide a stepping stone for astrophysicists to Part together the earliest moments of our universe. Some of the questions these galaxies will answer haven’t even been requested yet.

In fact, astrophysicists are already finding the early universe noteworthy be a lot busier than they expected. Stars may have started forming at a much faster rate than some models have predicted. How did matter coalesce and start to form these galaxies early on? We don’t know yet. But Webb is, seemingly, already rewriting what we thought we knew about the twitch of, well, everything.

It’s an astronomical revolution. So strap in. It’s moving to be one hell of a ride.