James Webb Space Telescope captures oldest galaxies ever observed

The findings will help astronomers learn more about the early universe

The James Webb Space Telescope. Photo: Nasa
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The James Webb Space Telescope has captured galaxies that were formed only 350 million years after the birth of the universe — the oldest ones ever observed.

An international team of astronomers used data from the $10 billion telescope to make the discovery, with findings published in two studies, including in science journal Nature Astronomy and another on the European Space Agency website on Tuesday.

The data shows the universe when it was only two per cent of its current age.

“It was crucial to prove that these galaxies do, indeed, inhabit the early universe. It’s very possible for closer galaxies to masquerade as very distant galaxies,” said astronomer and co-author Emma Curtis-Lake from the University of Hertfordshire.

“Seeing the spectrum revealed as we hoped, confirming these galaxies as being at the true edge of our view, some further away than Hubble could see. It is a tremendously exciting achievement for the mission.”

Spectroscopic results from the James Webb Space Telescope that shows galaxies in the early universe. Photo: ESAWebb.org

The light from these galaxies has taken more than 13.4 billion years to reach us.

This has also helped confirm that the world’s most powerful telescope can make such observations using light from ancient galaxies that has been travelling through our universe for billions of years.

Astronomers used the telescope’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and the near-infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec) to make the observations.

Helping to unravel mysteries of the universe

“For the first time, we have discovered galaxies only 350 million years after the big bang, and we can be absolutely confident of their fantastic distances,” said co-author Brant Robertson from the University of California Santa Cruz.

Even though the galaxies are extremely faint because of how far they are, it would still help astronomers explore their properties.

Astronomer Sandro Tachella from the University of Cambridge in the UK, said that the telescope could unlock many mysteries of the universe.

“It is hard to understand galaxies without understanding the initial periods of their development," he said.

"Much as with humans, so much of what happens later depends on the impact of these early generations of stars."

The telescope was launched on Christmas Day, 2021, to help reveal secrets of the universe and how it was formed.

The first image from the telescope was revealed by US President Joe Biden on July 11. It showed the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it was 4.6 billion years ago.

Researchers have also been using the telescope to learn more about the solar system and its planets.

Last year, images that showed planet Jupiter in striking detail were released.

The planet, which is believed to have 79 moons, has a unique composition and inner structure that researchers want to study more.

Its atmosphere is made up of mostly hydrogen gas and helium gas, just like the Sun.

The gas giant is covered in thick red, brown, yellow and white clouds, which make it look like the planet has stripes.

Startling discoveries by $10bn space telescope — in pictures

Updated: April 05, 2023, 1:01 PM