JWST Sees the Most Distant Galaxy Ever, Just 300 Million Years After the Big Bang

galaxies from JWST

By now, almost everyone has seen the first-release images from JWST and marveled at these amazing views of the infrared universe the telescope was launched to explore. The view of SMACS 0723 seen above illustrates the promise JWST holds. While there are many more early-release images in the observation pipeline, we’re starting to see the first research papers come out. As expected, studies of distant galaxies are grabbing headlines already.

Wow, are these findings amazing! In the last couple of days, websites and social media have been alive with images of a blob that, in reality, is one of the oldest (earliest) galaxies ever seen. It’s one of two—GL-z11 and GL-z13—that show us what they looked like when the Universe was extremely young, about 300 million years after the Big Bang. When confirmed, they’ll mark a milestone in studies of the infant Universe.

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A Dormant Black Hole has Been Discovered Just Outside the Milky Way

home of the dormant black hole

What happens when a massive star dies? Conventional wisdom (and observational evidence) say that it can collapse to form a “stellar-mass” black hole. Astronomers detect black holes by the X-ray emissions they emit.

But, what if the black hole isn’t giving off high levels of X-ray emissions? Then, it could be a very rare object indeed: a dormant black hole. Not many of these have been seen. So, it’s exciting to know that a team of astronomers has found one. It’s called VFTS 243. They detected it in Very Large Telescope observations of stars in the Tarantula Nebula, in the neighboring Large Magellanic Cloud.

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We Finally Know Where the Highest Energy Cosmic Rays are Coming From: Blazars

blazar

Way out there in space is a class of objects called blazars. Think of them as extreme particle accelerators, able to marshall energies a million times stronger than the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. It turns out they’re the culprits in one of the great astrophysical mysteries: what creates and propels neutrinos across the universe at blazingly fast speeds? It turns out that the answer’s been there all along: blazars pump out neutrinos and cosmic rays. That’s the conclusion a group of astronomers led by Dr. Sara Buson of Universität Wurzburg in Germany came to as they studied data from a very unique facility here on Earth: the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in Antarctica.

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A New Instrument is Going to the ISS to Study the Climate Impact of Dust in Earth’s Upper Atmosphere

People often seem surprised when they learn that NASA doesn’t just look out to the other planets, stars, and galaxies. It’s also an agency that studies our own home planet—from space! And why not? Earth is part of the solar system, too. So, to that end, there’s a new Earth studies mission called EMIT on its way to the International Space Station. It’s designed to track dust as it moves from one place to another on our planet through through our atmosphere.

The official name of the mission is the Earth Surface Mineral Dust Source Investigation (EMIT, for short). It will use a high-tech imaging spectrometer to study dust around the globe over the next year.

A dust plume stretches over the eastern Mediterranean, shrouding parts of Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. The June 2020 image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. NASA’s EMIT mission will help scientists better understand how airborne dust affects climate. Credits: NASA
A dust plume stretches over the eastern Mediterranean, shrouding parts of Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus. The June 2020 image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. NASA’s EMIT mission will help scientists better understand how airborne dust affects climate. Credit: NASA
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A Star Came too Close to a Black Hole and was Torn Apart. Surprisingly Little Actually Went In

Close-up of star near a supermassive black hole (artist’s impression). Credit: ESA/Hubble, ESO, M. Kornmesser

What happens when a star wanders too close to a supermassive black hole? The obvious story is that it gets sucked in, never to be seen again. Some of its material gets superheated on the way in and that gives off huge amounts of radiation—usually X-rays. That’s not a wrong explanation, just incomplete. There’s more to the story, thanks to a team of astronomers at the University of California at Berkeley. They used a specialized spectrograph at Lick Observatory to study a tidal disruption event. That’s where a star encountered a black hole. What they found was surprising.

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Dusty Dark Galaxies in the Early Universe Revealed in Various Wavelengths

Artist's impression of a dust-enshrouded starburst (credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser).
Artist's impression of a dust-enshrouded starburst (credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser).

Well, this is the week for distant galaxies, isn’t it? Not only has JWST revealed some of the most distant ones ever seen in infrared, but other observatories are studying them, too. Astronomers at the Cosmic Dawn Center in Copenhagen recently discovered several interesting ones in the early Universe. However, they had to get through clouds of dust to do it. Their observations revealed several interesting characteristics of objects that existed when the Universe was only a tenth of its current age.

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Good News! One JWST Picture Early!

For everybody waiting with bated breath for Tuesday’s release of the first James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) images, NASA’s doing a bit of a tease. They’re releasing one image a day early on Monday afternoon. And, the announcer will be the President of the United States, Mr. Joseph R. Biden. Joining him will be NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, who will conduct this one-of-a-kind White House astronomy briefing. It’s all part of the buildup to the big reveals on Tuesday.

What's JWST going to show us first? There's a sneak preview on Monday. Artist impression of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credit: ESA.
What’s JWST going to show us first? There’s a sneak preview on Monday. Credit: ESA.
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When did the Sun Blow Away the Solar Nebula?

Young stars have a disk of gas and dust around them called a protoplanetary disk. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The story of our solar system’s origin is pretty well known. It goes like this: the Sun began as a protostar in its “solar nebula” over 4.5 billion years ago. Over the course of several million years, the planets emerged from this nebula and it dissipated away. Of course, the devil is in the details. For example, exactly how long did the protoplanetary disk that gave birth to the planets last? A recent paper submitted to the Journal of Geophysical Research takes a closer look at the planetary birth crèche. In particular, it shows how the magnetism of meteorites helps tell the story.

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One Star Flies Past the Milky Way’s Black Hole at 3% the Speed of Light

Orbits of stars near Sagittarius A*. Credit: ESO/M. Parsa/L. Calçada

There’s a population of stars in the heart of our galaxy whipping around Sagittarius A* (the Milky Way’s central supermassive black hole). Astronomers just found the closest, fastest one (so far). It’s called S4716 and it orbits Sag A* once every four years. That makes it officially the fastest star moving at the heart of our galaxy. To give you some perspective, the Sun moves around the center of the galaxy at a much more leisurely pace once every 230 million years.

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Most Black Holes Spin Rapidly. This one… Doesn’t

This is the first image of Sgr A*, the supermassive black hole at the centre of our galaxy. It’s the first direct visual evidence of the presence of this black hole. It was captured by the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT), an array which linked together eight existing radio observatories across the planet to form a single “Earth-sized” virtual telescope. The telescope is named after the event horizon, the boundary of the black hole beyond which no light can escape.   Although we cannot see the event horizon itself, because it cannot emit light, glowing gas orbiting around the black hole reveals a telltale signature: a dark central region (called a shadow) surrounded by a bright ring-like structure. The new view captures light bent by the powerful gravity of the black hole, which is four million times more massive than our Sun. The image of the Sgr A* black hole is an average of the different images the EHT Collaboration has extracted from its 2017 observations.  In addition to other facilities, the EHT network of radio observatories that made this image possible includes the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) and the Atacama Pathfinder EXperiment (APEX) in the Atacama Desert in Chile, co-owned and co-operated by ESO is a partner on behalf of its member states in Europe.
A Chandra X-ray Observatory view of the supermassive black hole at the heart of quasar H1821+643. Courtesy NASA/CXC/Univ. of Cambridge/J. Sisk-Reynés et al.
A Chandra X-ray Observatory view of the supermassive black hole at the heart of quasar H1821+643. Courtesy NASA/CXC/Univ. of Cambridge/J. Sisk-Reynés et al.

Black holes. They used to be theoretical, up until the first one was found and confirmed back in the late 20th Century. Now, astronomers find them all over the place. We even have direct radio images of two black holes: one in M87 and Sagittarius A* in the center of our galaxy. So, what do we know about them? A lot. But, there’s more to find out. A team of astronomers using Chandra X-ray Observatory data has made a startling discovery about a central supermassive black hole in a quasar embedded in a distant galaxy cluster. What they found provides clues to the origin and evolution of supermassive black holes.

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