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James Webb telescope finds two of oldest and most distant galaxies ever seen | James Webb Space Telescope

NASA James Webb Space Telescope finds bright, early galaxies previously hidden from view, including one that may have formed just 350 million years after the Big Bang.

Astronomers said on Thursday that if the results were verified, this newly discovered cluster of stars would beat the most distant galaxy identified by the Hubble Space Telescope — a record-holder that formed 400 million years after the universe began.

The Webb Telescope, launched last December to succeed Hubble, suggests that stars may have formed earlier than previously thought – perhaps within a few million years after the Big Bang.

Side-by-side images of distant galaxies appearing as elliptical reddish smudges against the blackness of space
A close-up of two of the newly discovered galaxies. Photo: ESA, Nasa, CSA, STScI/AFP/Getty Images

Webb’s latest discoveries were detailed in the Astrophysical Journal Letters by an international team led by Rohan Naidu of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. The article details two extraordinarily bright galaxies, the first believed to have formed 350 million years after the Big Bang and the other 450 million years later.

Naidu said more infrared observations were needed from Webb before he could claim a new record holder.

Although some researchers report discovering galaxies even closer to the formation of the universe 13.8 billion years ago, these candidates have yet to be verified, scientists at a Our Press conference. Some of these could be later galaxies mimicking earlier ones, they noted.

“This is a very dynamic time,” said Garth Illingworth of the University of California, Santa Cruz, a co-author of the article published Thursday. “There have been many preliminary announcements from even earlier galaxies, and we’re still trying to figure out as a community which of these are likely real.”

Tommaso Treu of the University of California, Los Angeles, a senior scientist for Webb’s early release science program, said the evidence presented so far is “as solid as it gets” for the galaxy thought to be 350 m formed after the Big Bang.

If the results are confirmed and more early galaxies are out there, Raidu and his team wrote that Webb “will prove extremely successful in pushing the cosmic frontier to the brink of the Big Bang.”

Two star fields with locator boxes showing the galaxies, with enlarged extractable images of the galaxies themselves in the center
A handout image from the Webb telescope’s near-infrared camera showing the distant galaxies in the outer regions of the giant galaxy cluster Abell 2744. Photo: ESA, Nasa, CSA, STScI/AFP/Getty Images

“When and how the first galaxies formed remains one of the most intriguing questions,” the researchers write.

NASA’s Jane Rigby, a project scientist at Webb, noted that these galaxies “hid just below the limits of what Hubble could do.”

“They were waiting for us right there,” she told reporters. “So it’s a pleasant surprise that there are many of these galaxies to study.”

The $10 billion observatory — the largest and most powerful telescope ever sent into space — is in a solar orbit 1.6 million kilometers from Earth. Full science operations began in the summer, and Nasa has released a number of since then dazzling snapshots of the universe.

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