NASA’s Webb Telescope Captures Amazing Details Of The Earliest Known Galaxies

jwst before launch
NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has reached yet another milestone, as it has discovered the earliest galaxies confirmed to date. The galaxies that were unveiled date back to less than 400 million years after the big bang.

The Webb telescope has been busy since its launch earlier this year, from revealing the Pillars of Creation in a new light to revealing details never-before-seen of the early universe. The highly-powerful telescope has reached further into the distant past than ever before, as it has detected galaxies that go all the way back to when the universe was only 2% of its current age. Now, the earliest galaxies that have ever been detected have been confirmed by obtaining spectroscopic observations, unveiling "characteristics and distinctive patterns in the fingerprints of light coming from these incredibly faint galaxies."

galaxy jade
This image taken by Webb highlights the region of study by the Webb Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES)

"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," explained co-author of a new paper outlining the findings Emma Curtis-Lake from the University of Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom. "Seeing the spectrum revealed as we hoped, confirming these galaxies as being at the edge of our view, some further away than Hubble could see! It is a tremendously exciting achievement for the mission."

The Webb Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) placed its focus on an area in and around Hubble's Ultra Deep Field. By using Webb's NIRCam instrument, scientists were able to observe the field in nine different infrared wavelength ranges. The team then searched for faint galaxies that are visible in the infrared but whose spectra suddenly cut off at a critical wavelength known as the Lyman break. Scientists were then able to use NIRCam to yield a precise measurement of each galaxy's redshift.

jade redshift
Four of the galaxies studied are particularly special, as they were revealed to be at an unprecedentedly early epoch.

"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," remarked co-author Brant Robertson from the University of California Santa Cruz. "To find these early galaxies in such stunningly beautiful images is a special experience."

Co-author of the recent study Sandro Tacchella from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom added that is it difficult to understand galaxies without first understanding the "initial periods of their development." Tacchella continued, "Much as with humans, so much of what happens later depends on the impact of these early generations of stars. So many questions about galaxies have been waiting for the transformative opportunity of Webb, and we're thrilled to be able to play a part in revealing this story."