The James Webb Space Telescope finds the oldest and most distant known galaxy

The James Webb Space Telescope finds the oldest and most distant known galaxy

  • The James Webb Space Telescope broke the record for the oldest galaxy ever observed nearly 100 million years ago.
  • Light from the galaxy, known as GLASS-z13, is 13.5 billion years old, and dates back to when the universe was young.
  • Web instruments can help astronomers see even older, more distant galaxies than this one.

The James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s new infrared heavyweights, looked into the vast expanse and found a 13.5 billion year old galaxy, which scientists believe is the oldest galaxy ever discovered. The scientific operations of the powerful telescope began last week.

The swirling collection of stars, gas and dust bound together by gravity dates back to 300 million years after the Big Bang. This beats the previous record for the most distant and oldest galaxy ever discovered 100 million years ago, a record held by a galaxy known as GN-Z1. When the GN-Z1 was discovered by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2016, the galaxy’s light had spent 13.4 billion years reaching Hubble.

Researchers from Harvard and the Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics shared their findings about the new record-keeping galaxy, called GLASS-z13, in a duo of pre-prints published on Wednesday. The scientists also identified another galaxy that is about the same age, called GLASS-z11, which also trumped previous records.

“We found two very convincing candidates for extremely distant galaxies,” Rohan Naidu, one of the researchers who discovered GLASS-z13 in Web’s data, told New Scientist. “If these galaxies are at the distance we think they are, the universe is only a few hundred million years old at that time.”

Scientists told New Scientist that the two galaxies are also relatively small compared to our own Milky Way galaxy, which is 100,000 light-years in diameter. GLASS-z13 is approximately 1600 light-years wide, while GLASS-z-11 is 2300 light-years.

The red blob is the oldest galaxy ever observed.

The red blob, captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, is the oldest galaxy ever observed.

Naidu et al, P. Oesch, T. Treu, GLASS-JWST, NASA / CSA / ESA / STScI

“With the use of JWST, we now have a unique view of the universe thanks to the extremely sensitive NIRCam instrument,” scientists explained in the pre-print.

It is still early for findings from the powerful observatory, which was launched on Christmas Day in 2021 and started scientific operations last week.

NASA says that Webb is able to look further and discover galaxies as far back as the first hundred million years after the Big Bang, and helps astronomers understand more about galaxy evolution throughout the age of the universe.

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