Throughout the early days of the mega-telescope’s operation, scientists were reporting exciting new discoveries about galaxies, stars, exoplanets, and even our own solar system.
The “deepest” view of the cosmos taken by the James Webb Space Telescope changed how we look at the universe and study the cosmos.
The image showed thousands of galaxies within a miniture-sized area of sky, whose light was magnified by the central cluster of galaxies.
Looking back in time
JWST is often hailed for its ability to see the first galaxies and stars in the early universe. On Christmas Day 2021, the telescope launched and now sits 1.5 million kilometers away from Earth. It has already discovered the most distant and earliest galaxy ever discovered.
In the first year of JWST operation, more than 200 science programs have been scheduled, including the GLASS survey. Two teams independently discovered what is now considered the most distant galaxy in the universe, and it was found when they separately analyzed observations for the GLASS survey.
One team was led by Rohan Naidu at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts, while Marco Castellano led the other at the Astronomical Observatory of Rome. The two teams identified two galaxies that appeared more than 300 million years after the Big Bang and one so far away that it is detected by JWST as it emitted light 400 million years after the Big Bang.
In spite of their extremely small size, perhaps 100 times smaller than the Milky Way, both galaxies are forming stars quickly and have a mass that is 1 billion times greater than our sun – more than expected for galaxies this young. There is even evidence of an apparent disk-like structure in one of the young galaxies. In order to glean their characteristics, more studies will be done on their light.
Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science (CEERS) survey member Rebecca Larson of the University of Texas, Austin says another early-universe program discovered “incredibly distant galaxies,” reports Quanta Magazine.
So far, Larson and her colleagues have discovered several galaxies from its first 500 million years, although they have still not revealed their results in a paper.
The deepest image of the universe is a treasure trove of scientific data, and more early galaxies hide in the image of the galaxy cluster presented by President Biden.
This cluster, known as SMACS 0723, is so heavy that it bends the light of farther-away objects, bringing them into view. According to researchers, the image magnifies 16 remote galaxies whose ages have not yet been determined.
The telescope examined one distant galaxy in the picture, a smudge of light 700 million years after the Big Bang. In the galaxy, JWST detected heavy elements, such as oxygen, with its spectrograph.
Using the telescope, scientists hope to discover that even earlier galaxies lack heavy elements – indicating that these galaxies contain only population III stars, the earliest and largest stars in the universe. In the process of exploding, those stars formed heavier elements, such as oxygen, and released them into the universe.
The JWST has already provided scientists with valuable data on the structure and evolution of galaxies.
The NOIRLab in Arizona, which is led by Janice Lee, looks for young stellar formation sites in galaxies. Using JWST, Lee’s team observed a galaxy 24 million light-years away called NGC 7496, which previously had been hidden in darkness due to thick dust and gas surrounding its young star-forming regions.
JWST can, however, detect infrared light bouncing off the dust, allowing it to probe close to the moment the stars turned on and nuclear fusion occurred in their cores. What JWST delivers is an unprecedented view of galaxies.
Under JWST’s watch, NGC 7496 suddenly begins to come to life and shows channels where stars are forming, she noted. NGC 7496 is a normal galaxy, not a poster-child galaxy. “It’s just phenomenal,” she said.
Twenty-four million light-years from Earth, NGC 7496 is a barred spiral galaxy, defined by distinctive spiral arms in the center and a bar that passes through the center.
The galactic disk pulls stars towards the denser region due to uneven density.
Gas is channeled inward towards the centers of these bars, which are thought to be regions with rich star formation. Therefore, bar spirals like NGC 7496, which are clearly visible, make excellent laboratories for studying star birth.
Compared to Hubble’s images, Webb’s look very different – and that’s a good thing. There is a difference in the light regime between the two telescopes. Unlike Hubble, which primarily sees optical wavelengths, Webb sees infrared wavelengths, allowing it to capture light obscured by dust and gas. Webb is able to see newborn stars, which are hidden inside the gas picked up by Hubble.
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