Astronomer Working With Webb Said the new Images “Almost Brought him to Tears.” We’ll see Them on July 12th

The James Webb Space Telescope being placed in the Johnson Space Center’s historic Chamber A on June 20th, 2017. Credit: NASA/JSC

The scientific and astronomical community are eagerly waiting for Tuesday, July 12th, to come around. On this day, the first images taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be released! According to a previous statement by the agency, these images will include the deepest views of the Universe ever taken and spectra obtained from an exoplanet atmosphere. In another statement issued yesterday, the images were so beautiful that they almost brought Thomas Zarbuchen – Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) – to tears!

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Once Again, Galaxies Look Surprisingly Mature Shortly After the Beginning of the Universe

A young galaxy with the catchy, roll-off-the-tongue name A1689-zD1 has experts in galactic formation talking. Recent observations show that this galaxy, seen as it would have looked just 700 million years after the Big Bang, is larger than initially believed, with significant outflows of hot gas from its core, and a halo of cold gas emanating from its outer rim. A1689-zD1 is considered representative of young ‘normal’ galaxies (as opposed to ‘massive’ galaxies), and the new observations suggest that the adolescence of normal galaxies may be more rambunctious than previous models suggest.

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A New Record for the Most Distant Galaxy, Seen Just 300 Million Years After the Big Bang

Three-color image of HD1, the most distant galaxy candidate to date, created using data from the VISTA telescope. The red object in the center of the zoom-in image is HD1. Credit: Harikane et al.

Since the Renaissance astronomer Galileo Galilee first studied the heavens using a telescope he built himself, astronomers have been pushing the boundaries of what they can observe. After centuries of progress, they have been able to study and catalog objects in all but the earliest periods of the Universe. But thanks to next-generation instruments and technologies, astronomers will soon be able to observe the “Cosmic Dawn” era – ca. 50 million to billion years after the Big Bang.

In recent years, astronomers have made discoveries that preview what this will be like, the most recent of which is the galaxy candidate known as HD1. This galaxy is about 13.5 billion light-years from Earth (32.2 billion light-years in terms of “proper distance“), making it the farthest ever observed. This discovery implies that galaxies existed as early as 300 million years after the Big Bang, a finding which could have drastic implications for astronomy and cosmology!

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New Simulation Recreates an Early Time in the Universe That Still Hasn't Been Seen Directly

Credit: Thesan Simulations

The fields of astronomy and astrophysics are poised for a revolution in the coming years. Thanks to next-generation observatories like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scientists will finally be able to witness the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the Universe. In effect, they will be able to pierce the veil of the Cosmic Dark Ages, which lasted from roughly 370,000 years to 1 billion years after the Big Bang.

During this period, the Universe was filled with clouds of neutral hydrogen and decoupled photons that were not visible to astronomers. In anticipation of what astronomers will see, researchers from the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPIA) created a new simulation suite called Thesan that simulates the earliest period of galaxy formation.

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Supermassive Black Holes Could Have Formed Directly in the Early Universe

There are a lot of amazing things in our Universe and a black hole is one of the most unknown. We don’t know for certain what happens inside a black hole and even the formation of supermassive black holes in the early universe is still being worked out. A group of physicists at Brookhaven National Laboratory have tackled this question and have come up with a possible solution to the mystery. The nature of dark matter may be resolved by their theory as well.

“The yet unanswered question of the nature of Dark Matter, and how primordial supermassive Black Holes could grow so fast in such a short amount of time are two pressing open questions in physics and astrophysics. Finding a common explanation for these observations is desirable and could provide us with insights into the inner workings of the Universe.”

Julia Gehrlein – Physicist at Brookhaven National Laboratory

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Astronomers set a new Record and Find the Farthest Galaxy. Its Light Took 13.4 Billion Years to Reach us

Galaxy GN-z11 superimposed on an image from the GOODS-North survey. Credit: NASA/ESA/P. Oesch (Yale University)/G. Brammer (STScI)/P. van Dokkum (Yale University)/G. Illingworth (University of California, Santa Cruz)

Since time immemorial, philosophers and scholars have contemplated the beginning of time and even tried to determine when all things began. It’s only been in the age of modern astronomy that we’ve come close to answering that question with a fair degree of certainty. According to the most widely-accepted cosmological models, the Universe began with the Bang Bang roughly 13.8 billion years ago.

Even so, astronomers are still uncertain about what the early Universe looked like since this period coincided with the cosmic “Dark Ages.” Therefore, astronomers keep pushing the limits of their instruments to see when the earliest galaxies formed. Thanks to new research by an international team of astronomers, the oldest and most distant galaxy observed in our Universe to date (GN-z11) has been identified!

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Galaxies Grew Quickly and Early On in the Universe

Artist's illustration of a galaxy in the early universe that is very dusty and shows the first signs of a rotationally supported disk. In this image, the red color represents gas, and blue/brown represents dust as seen in radio waves with ALMA. Many other galaxies are visible in the background, based on optical data from VLT and Subaru. Credit: B. Saxton NRAO/AUI/NSF, ESO, NASA/STScI; NAOJ/Subaru

The behaviour of galaxies in the early Universe attracts a lot of attention from researchers. In fact, everything about the early Universe is under intense scientific scrutiny for obvious reasons. But unlike the Universe’s first stars, which have all died long ago, the galaxies we see around us—including our own—have been here since the early days.

Current scientific thinking says that in the early days of the Universe, the galaxies grew slowly, taking billions of years to become what they are now. But new observations show that might not be the case.

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This Distorted Circle is Actually a Galaxy That Looked Very Similar to the Milky Way, Shortly After the Big Bang

Astronomers using ALMA, in which the ESO is a partner, have revealed an extremely distant galaxy that looks surprisingly like our Milky Way. The galaxy, SPT0418-47, is gravitationally lensed by a nearby galaxy, appearing in the sky as a near-perfect ring of light.

The most widely accepted cosmological view states that the first galaxies formed about 380–400 million years after the Big Bang. These were made up of young, hot stars that lived fast and died young, causing the galaxies themselves to be turbulent. At least, that was the theory until a European team of astronomers observed a galaxy 12 billion light-years away that closely resembled the Milky Way.

Using the Atacama Large Millimeter-submillimeter Array (ALMA), the team observed the galaxy, SPT0418-47, as it appeared when the Universe was just 1.4 billion years old. Much to their surprise, the team noted that the structure and features of this galaxy were highly evolved and stable, something that contradicts previously-held notions about the nature of galaxies in the early Universe.

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A Giant Galaxy Seen Lighting Up the Universe Shortly After the Big Bang

An illustration of cosmic expansion. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center Conceptual Image Lab

About 370,000 years after the Big Bang, the Universe experienced a period that cosmologists refer to as the “Cosmic Dark Ages.” During this period, the Universe was obscured by pervasive neutral gas that obscured all visible light, making it invisible to astronomers. As the first stars and galaxies formed over the next few hundred millions of years, the radiation they emitted ionized this plasma, making the Universe transparent.

One of the biggest cosmological mysteries right now is when “cosmic reionization” began. To find out, astronomers have been looking deeper into the cosmos (and farther back in time) to spot the first visible galaxies. Thanks to new research by a team of astronomers from University College London (UCL), a luminous galaxy has been observed that was reionizing the intergalactic medium 13 billion years ago.

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What Telescope Will Be Needed to See the First Stars in the Universe? The Ultimately Large Telescope

New results from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope suggest the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the early Universe took place sooner than previously thought. A European team of astronomers have found no evidence of the first generation of stars, known as Population III stars, when the Universe was less than one billion years old. This artist’s impression presents the early Universe. Image Credit: ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser.

The oldest stars in the Universe are cloaked in darkness. Their redshift is so high, we can only wonder about them. The James Webb Space Telescope will be our most effective telescope for observing the very early Universe, and should observe out to z = 15. But even it has limitations.

To observe the Universe’s very first stars, we need a bigger telescope. The Ultimately Large Telescope.

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