NASA's Webb Explores the Final Frontier: Opens the Curtains to an Undiscovered Universe

NASA’s Webb Explores the Final Frontier: Opens the Curtains to an Undiscovered Universe

Abell 2744 GLASS (Webb NIRCam Image)

Two of the most distant galaxies seen to date are 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 several billion light years further behind him. The galaxy labeled (1) only existed 450 million years after the big bang. The galaxy labeled (2) existed 350 million years after the big bang. The two are seen very close in time to the big bang that happened 13.8 billion years ago. These galaxies are tiny compared to our Milky Way, being only a few percent of its size, even the surprisingly elongated galaxy labeled (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 has been largely hidden until now has been discovered by

Founded in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States federal government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civil space program, as well as aeronautical and aerospace research. His vision is "Discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity." Its core values ​​are "safety, integrity, teamwork, excellence and inclusion."

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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 Treu, principal investigator of the GLASS-JWST Early Release (Grism Lens-Amplified Survey from Space) science program. This program recently obtained an image of the galaxy cluster Abell 2744, also known as the Pandora cluster. In it, about 6,000 galaxies can be detected in a region of sky no larger than a grain of sand held at arm’s length. Initial analysis suggests that an unusual number of galaxies in the early universe were much brighter than expected.

NASA’s Webb lifts the curtain on the Universe’s first galaxies

Just days after the official start of science operations, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope thrust astronomers into a realm of primeval galaxies, previously hidden beyond the reach of all other telescopes until now.

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

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

These early results come from a larger Webb research initiative involving two Early Release Science (ERS) programs: the Grism Lens-Amplified Survey from Space (GLASS) and the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS).

With only four days of analysis, the researchers found two unusually bright galaxies in the GLASS-JWST images. These galaxies existed around 450 and 350 million years after the big bang (with a redshift of around 10.5 and 12.5, respectively), although future spectroscopic measurements with Webb will help confirm this.

“Everything we see is new. Webb shows us that there is a very rich universe beyond what we imagined. Once again the universe surprised us. These early galaxies are very unusual in many ways. — Tommaso Treu

“With Webb, we were amazed to find the most distant starlight anyone had ever seen, just days after Webb published his first data,” Naidu said of the more distant GLASS galaxy, called GLASS- z12, which is thought to date. back to 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 and Keck observatory in deep sky programs .

“Based on all the predictions, we thought we needed to search a much larger volume of space to find such galaxies,” Castellano said.

“These sightings just blow your mind. It’s a whole new chapter in astronomy. It’s like an archaeological dig, and suddenly you find a lost city or something you didn’t know about. It is simply astounding,” added Paola Santini, fourth author of Castellano et al. GLASS-JWST paper.

“While the distances of these early sources have yet to be confirmed by spectroscopy, their extreme luminosities are a real headache, challenging our understanding of galaxy formation,” noted Pascal Oesch of the University of Geneva in Switzerland, second study author Naidu et al. . paper.

Webb’s observations push astronomers toward a consensus that an unusual number of galaxies in the early universe were so much brighter than expected. According to the researchers, this will make it easier for Webb to find even more early galaxies in later deep-sky surveys.

“We have achieved something incredibly fascinating. These galaxies should have started coming together maybe just 100 million years after the big bang. No one expected the Dark Ages to end so soon,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a member of the Naidu/Oesch team. “The early universe would have been only a hundredth of its current age. That’s a slice of time in the evolving cosmos 13.8 billion years old.

Erica Nelson of the University of Colorado at Boulder, a member of the Naidu/Oesch team, noted that “our team was struck to be able to measure the shapes of these early galaxies; their quiet, orderly disks challenge our understanding of how the first galaxies formed in the crowded and chaotic early universe. This remarkable discovery of compact discs at such an early time was only possible thanks to the much sharper images of Webb, in infrared light, compared to Hubble.

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

Illingworth pointed out that the two bright galaxies discovered by these teams have a lot of light. He said one option is that they could have been very massive, with lots of low-mass stars, like later galaxies. Alternatively, they could be much less massive, made up of far fewer extraordinarily bright stars, known as Population III stars. Long theorized, they would be the first stars ever born, burning at searing temperatures and composed only of primordial hydrogen and helium – before stars could later cook heavier elements in their nuclear fusion furnaces. No such extremely hot primordial star is observed in the local universe.

“Indeed, the most distant source is very compact, and its colors seem to indicate that its stellar population is particularly devoid of heavy elements and may even contain a few Population III stars. Only Webb spectra will tell,” said Adriano Fontana, second author of Castellano et al. article and member of the GLASS-JWST team.

Webb’s current distance estimates to these two galaxies are based on measuring their infrared colors. Eventually, follow-up spectroscopy measurements showing how light has been stretched across the expanding universe will provide independent verification of these cosmic measurements.


“First results of GLASS-JWST. I: Confirmation of Lensed z=7 Lyman-break Galaxies behind the Abell 2744 Cluster with NIRISS” by Guido Roberts-Borsani, Takahiro Morishita, Tommaso Treu, Gabriel Brammer, Victoria Strait, Xin Wang, Marusa Bradac, Ana Acebron, Pietro Bergamini, 2010; Kristan Boyett, Antonello Calabro, Marco Castellano, Adriano Fontana, Karl Glazebrook, Claudio Grillo, Alaina Henry, Tucker Jones, Matthew Malkan, Danilo Marchesini, Sarah Mascia, Charlotte Mason, Amata Mercury, Emiliano Merlin, Themiya Nanayakkara, Laura Pentericci, Piero Rosati , Paola Santini, Claudia Scarlata, Michele Trenti, Eros Vanzella, Benedetta Vulcani and Chris Willott, October 18, 2022, Astrophysical Journal Letters.
DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac8e6e

“Two Remarkably Bright Galactic Candidates at z˜ 10–12 Revealed by JWST” by Rohan P. Naidu, Pascal A. Oesch, Pieter van Dokkum, Erica J. Nelson, Katherine A. Suess, Gabriel Brammer, Katherine E. Whitaker, Garth Illingworth, Rychard Bouwens, Sandro Tacchella, Jorryt Matthee, Natalie Allen, Rachel Bezanson, Charlie Conroy, Ivo Labbe, Joel Leja, Ecaterina Leonova, Dan Magee, Sedona H. Price, David J. Setton, Victoria Strait, Mauro Stefanon, Sune Toft, John R. Weaver and Andrea Weibel, November 17, 2022, Astrophysical Journal Letters.
DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac9b22

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s first space science observatory. Webb will solve the mysteries of our solar system, look beyond distant worlds around other stars, and probe 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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