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Using never-before-seen observations from the James Webb Space Telescope, a team led by the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has looked more than 13 billion years into the past to discover a unique tiny galaxy that has spawned new stars at an extremely high rate. for its size. The galaxy is one of the smallest ever discovered at this distance – around 500 million years after the Big Bang – and could help astronomers learn more about galaxies that were present shortly after the creation of the universe.
The paper is published in Science.
The University of Minnesota researchers were one of the first teams to study a distant galaxy using the James Webb Space Telescope, and their findings will be among the first ever published.
“This galaxy is well beyond the reach of all telescopes except the James Webb, and these early observations of the distant galaxy are spectacular,” said Patrick Kelly, lead author of the paper and assistant professor at the University. from the Minnesota School of Physics and Astronomy.
“Here we can see most of the way to the Big Bang, and we never looked at galaxies when the universe was so young at this level of detail. The volume of the galaxy is about one millionth from that of the Milky Way. , but we can see that it still forms the same number of stars every year.”
The James Webb Telescope can observe a field wide enough to image an entire cluster of galaxies at once. Researchers were able to find and study this tiny new galaxy through a phenomenon called gravitational lensing, where mass, like that of a galaxy or cluster of galaxies, bends and amplifies light. A galaxy cluster lens made this little background galaxy appear 20 times brighter than it would be if the cluster weren’t amplifying its light.
The researchers then used spectroscopy to measure how far away the galaxy was, in addition to some of its physical and chemical properties. Studying the galaxies that were present when the universe was this young can help scientists get closer to answering a huge question in astronomy about how the universe reionized.
“The galaxies that existed when the universe was in its infancy are very different from what we see in the near universe today,” explained Hayley Williams, the paper’s first author and Ph.D. student at the Minnesota Institute of Astrophysics. “This discovery can help us learn more about the characteristics of these early galaxies, how they differ from neighboring galaxies, and how earlier galaxies formed.”
The James Webb Telescope can collect about 10 times more light than the Hubble Space Telescope and is much more sensitive to redder and longer wavelengths of the infrared spectrum. This gives scientists access to a whole new window of data, the researchers said.
“The James Webb Space Telescope has this incredible ability to see extremely far into the universe,” Williams said. “That’s one of the most exciting things about this paper. We’re seeing things that previous telescopes could never have captured. It’s basically getting a snapshot of our universe over the first 500 million years of his life.”
Hayley Williams, A compact galaxy magnified at a redshift of 9.51 with strong nebular emission lines, Science (2023). DOI: 10.1126/science.adf5307. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/science.adf5307
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