James Webb breaks its own record for the most distant galaxy ever observed

A new observation revealed a galaxy that existed only 235 million years after the Big Bang.
Chris Young
James Webb's image of the spiral galaxyN/A
  • James Webb broke its own record by observing a galaxy 35 billion light-years from Earth
  • The galaxy, dubbed CEERS-93316, existed only 235 million years after the Big Bang.
  • The James Webb Telescope will likely break its own record many times over.

We’re only days into James Webb’s scientific operations, and the giant infrared observatory has already broken its own record for the most distant galaxy ever observed.

Last week, a team unearthed an observation of a galaxy that existed 400 million years after the Big Bang. This week, a new analysis revealed a galaxy a mere 235 million years after the Big Bang. It is located 35 billion light-years away from Earth.

James Webb peers further into the universe than ever before

The researchers behind the new discovery, from the University of Edinburgh, compiled a catalog of early galaxies observed by Webb to investigate the luminosity function of galaxies that formed shortly after the Big Bang. They hadn’t actually planned to observe the most distant galaxy known to humans, so the new finding was a happy accident.

For their catalog, the University of Edinburgh scientists identified 55 distant galaxies, 44 of which had never been observed previously. In a preprint paper, the researchers described the new galaxy, dubbed CEERS-93316. They also say it has a record redshift of 16.7. Redshift is the measurement of the “stretching” of light by the expansion of the Universe into redder wavelengths. The higher the redshift the more distant and early a galaxy is in the cosmos.

"We're using a telescope that was designed to do precisely this kind of thing, and it's amazing," said Callum Donnan, an astrophysics PhD student the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Astronomy, as per the BBC.

James Webb will likely break record after record in the coming months

It's worth pointing out that the discovery of CEERS-93316 is a preliminary, or "candidate", result and it will need to be investigated further for confirmation. In other words, it has to undergo full spectroscopic examination. The same is the case for last week’s discovery of the galaxy GLASS-z13.

The quick-fire record-breaking observations highlight the immense power of James Webb, which was designed to detect such distant, faint objects using its Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam).

We’re only at the beginning of Webb’s journey, as the space observatory began scientific operations on July 12. The telescope was designed to eventually observe objects from as little as 100 million years after the Big Bang. This means we’ll likely see the record broken several times over in the coming months and years.

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