Webb Finds the Farthest Galaxy Ever Seen (So Far)

There are some things that never cease to amaze me and the discovery of distant objects is one of them. The James Webb Space Telescope has just found the most distant galaxy ever observed! It has the catchy title JADES-GS-z14-0 and it has a redshift of 14.32. This means its light left when the Universe was only 290 million years old! That means the light left the source LOOOONG before even our Milky Way was here! How amazing is that!

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) with its 6.5m mirror was launched on 25 December 2021 and has quickly proven itself to be the most powerful space telescope ever built. It was designed to explore the Universe in visible and infrared radiation so that it could probe straight through dust to reveal hidden details behind. It is positioned at the second Lagrange point where the gravity of the Earth is balanced by the gravity of the Sun and it maintains a stable 1.5 million km from Earth. 

Artist impression of the James Webb Space Telescope

Over the last couple of years, astronomers have been using JWST to study the Cosmic Dawn! This period of time existed just a few hundred million years after the big bang but studying galaxies so far back in time required the sensitivity of the JWST. They provide valuable information about the gas and stars within and help to understand their formation. 

An international team were using JWST data that had been collected as part of the Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) using the Near-Infrared Spectrograph known as NIRSpec. They were able to acquire a spectrum of the galaxy revealing a redshift of 14.32. The redshift phenomenon occurs when the light from distant objects in space shift toward the red end of the spectrum. It was originally thought this was due to the movement but instead it is caused by the expansion of space. The greater the redshift, the faster the object is moving away and therefore the further away it is. 

The redshift of JADES-GS-z14-0 makes it the most distant galaxy known and it corresponds to the light having been emitted at a time when the Universe was just under 300 million years old. The team estimate the galaxy to be just over 1,600 light years across, that’s in comparison to the Milky Way which is thought to be 100,000 light years across. It is fairly typical of distant, early galaxies to be bright due to gas falling into a supermassive black hole but in the case of JADES-GS-z14-0 the light seems to be created by hot young stars. 

The image that has been released shows a field of thousands of distant galaxies of all manner of shapes, colours and sizes. One solitary bright star is visible in the foreground with the trademark diffraction spikes caused by the JWST optics. A box just to the lower right of centre highlights the location with the zoomed in image of the galaxy superimposed. The galaxy looks very different from those we tend to see in today’s Universe as it appears far less structured. 

Source : Webb finds most distant known galaxy