NASA’s Web Explores The Final Frontier: Draws the Curtains on an Undiscovered Universe

Two of the most distant galaxies seen to date have been captured in these Webb Space Telescope images of the outer regions of the giant galaxy cluster Abell 2744. The galaxies are not inside the cluster, but lie billions of light-years behind it. The named galaxy (1) existed only 450 million years after the Big Bang. The galaxy named (2) existed 350 million years after the Big Bang. Both are seen very close to the Big Bang, which happened 13.8 billion years ago. These galaxies are very small compared to our own Milky Way, being only a few percent of its size, even the unexpectedly elongated galaxy (1). Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Tommaso Treu (UCLA), Image processing: Zolt G. Levay (STScI)

Webb Telescope’s infrared vision explores the final frontier

An unexpectedly rich ‘undiscovered country’ of early galaxies that was largely hidden hitherto has been found.

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Follow-up spectroscopic observations with Webb should confirm the distances to these remote galaxies, and also reveal the rate of star formation and elemental abundances in the makeup of the early stars.

This video features an interview with Tommaso Trio, principal investigator of the early release science program GLASS-JWST (Grims Lens-Amplified Survey from Space). This program recently acquired an image of the Abell 2744 galaxy cluster, also known as Pandora’s Cluster. In it, about 6,000 galaxies can be detected within a region of the sky no larger than a grain of sand at arm’s length. Initial analysis indicates that an unusual number of galaxies in the early universe were much brighter than expected.

NASA’s Web Reveals the Universe’s Early Galaxies

Just a few days after science operations officially began, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has propelled astronomers into a realm of early galaxies, previously hidden beyond the reach of all other telescopes to date.

“Everything we see is new. Webb shows us that there is a very rich universe out there beyond what we imagined,” said Tommaso Trio of the University of California, Los Angeles, principal investigator of one of Webb’s programmes. “Once again the universe surprised us. These early galaxies are unusual in many ways.”

Two papers led by Marco Castellano of the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome, Italy, and Rohan Naidoo of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts, are published in Astrophysical Journal Letters.

These preliminary results are from a broader web research initiative that includes two early release science (ERS) programs: the Grism Lens-Amplified Survey from Space (GLASS), and the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS).

With just four days of analysis, the researchers found two exceptionally bright galaxies in the GLASS-JWST images. These galaxies existed about 450 and 350 million years after the Big Bang (with redshifts of about 10.5 and 12.5, respectively), although future spectroscopic measurements using Webb will help confirm this.

“Everything we see is new. Webb shows us that there is a very rich universe out there beyond what we imagine. Once again the universe has surprised us. These early galaxies are unusual in many ways.” – Tommaso Trio

Naidu said of the most distant GLASS galaxy, which is referred to as GLASS-z12, which is thought so far: to go back 350 million years after the Big Bang. The previous record holder is the galaxy GN-z11, which existed 400 million years after the Big Bang (redshift 11.1), and was identified in 2016 by the Hubble Observatory and Keck in the Deep Sky programs.

“Based on all the predictions, we thought we had to search a much larger area to find such galaxies,” Castellano said.

“These observations just make your head explode. This is a whole new chapter in astronomy. It’s like an archaeological dig, and all of a sudden you find a lost city or something you didn’t know about,” added Paola Santini, fourth author of the Castellano et al. GLASS-JWST paper.

Pascal Ochs of the University of Geneva, Switzerland, second author of Naidoo et al. paper.

Webb’s observations have led astronomers to a consensus that an unusual number of galaxies in the early universe were much brighter than expected. The researchers say this will make it easier for Webb to find more early galaxies in subsequent deep-sky surveys.

“We nailed something incredibly cool. These galaxies should have started coming together perhaps only 100 million years after the Big Bang. No one expected the ages to end,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of the Naidoo/Och team. The Dark Earth is too early.” “The primordial universe would have been just one hundredth of its current age. It’s a fraction of time in the 13.8-billion-year-old developing universe.”

“Our team was struck by their ability to measure the shapes of these first galaxies. Their quiet, orderly disks call into question our understanding of how the first galaxies formed in the crowded and chaotic early universe,” noted Erica Nilsson of the University of Colorado at Boulder, a member of the Naidoo/Osh team. This remarkable discovery of CDs at such early times was only possible because of Webb’s sharper images, in infrared light, than Hubble’s.

“These galaxies are very different from the Milky Way or other large galaxies we see around us today,” Treau said.

Illingworth confirmed that the two bright galaxies these teams found have a lot of light. One option, he said, is that it could have been very massive, with lots of low-mass stars, like later galaxies. Alternatively, it could be much less massive, made up of a much smaller number of unusually bright stars, known as Community III stars. Long in theory, they would be the first stars ever born, blazing at extreme temperatures, and made only of primordial hydrogen and helium — before later stars could cook up heavier elements in their nuclear fusion furnaces. There are no such superheated primordial stars in the local universe.

“In fact, the outermost source is very compact, and its colors seem to indicate that its stellar population is particularly devoid of heavy elements and could even contain some Group III stars. The paper and member of the GLASS-JWST team, said Adriano Fontana, second author of the Castellano et al. paper. .

Webb’s current distance estimates to these two galaxies are based on their infrared colorimetry. Ultimately, subsequent spectroscopy measurements showing how light is expanding in the expanding universe will provide independent verification of these cosmological scale measurements.

References:

Early results from the GLASS-JWST. I: Confirmation of Lensed z=7 Lyman-break Galaxies Behind Abell 2744 Cluster with NIRISS” by Guido Roberts-Borsani, Takahiro Morishita, Tommaso Trio, Gabriel Brummer, Victoria Street, Chen Wang, Rosa Bradac, Anna Asipron, Pietro Bergamini, 2010; Kristan Boyet, Antonello Calabro, Marco Castellano , Adriano Fontana, Karl Glazebrook, Claudio Grillo, Alaina Henry, Tucker Jones, Matthew Malkan, Danilo Marchesini, Sara Macia, Charlotte Mason, Amata Mercury, Emiliano Merlin, Themia Nanayakkara, Laura Penterich Piero Rosati, Paola Santini, Claudia Scarlata, Michelle Trinity, Eros Vanzella and Benedetta Volcani and Chris Willott, Oct. 18, 2022, Available here. Astrophysical Journal Letters.
DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac8e6e

“Two remarkably bright galaxy candidates at z ˜ 10–12 detected by JWST” by Rohan B. Naidoo, and Pascal A. Ochs, Peter van Dokkum, Erika J. Nelson, Kathryn A. Suess, Gabrielle Brummer, Kathryn E. Whittaker, Garth Illingworth, Richard Bowens, Sandro Taquila, Jorit Mattei, Natalie Allen, Rachel Besanson, Charlie Conroy, Ivo Lap, Joel Lega, Ekaterina Leonova, Dan Magee, Sedona H Price, David J Seton, Victoria Street, Mauro Stefanon, Son Toft, John R. Weaver and Andrea Whipple, Nov. 17, 2022, Available Here. Astrophysical Journal Letters.
DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac9b22

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and explore the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).


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