Astronomers have found what they believe is the most distant galaxy ever observed, saying the ‘amazing’ discovery is ‘just the start of many important observations’.
Observations using NASA’s £10 million James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have revealed a galaxy 35 billion light years from Earth, known as CEERS-93316.
Researchers from the University of Edinburgh say the galaxy existed 235 million years after the Big Bang, which formed the first stars and galaxies in the Universe 13.8 billion years ago.
The most distant galaxy previously identified was GN-z11, which is around 32 billion light-years from Earth, according to the university.
The find is currently a ‘preliminary’ or ‘candidate’ result, meaning it will still need a follow-up study to be confirmed, but astronomers are still celebrating the development.
Callum Donnan, an astrophysics PhD student in the university’s Institute for Astronomy, said: “We’re using a telescope that was designed to do precisely this kind of thing, and it’s amazing. It’s allowing us to look back at the formation of the very first stars and galaxies more than 13.5 billion years ago. Without a doubt, this is just the start of many important observations that will be made using this incredible instrument in the weeks, months and years to come.”
The team – which also included scientists from the University of Manchester, Sorbonne Université, France, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and Sonoma State University, United States – have now submitted their study for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
In the abstract, they explained how the ‘advances’ presented in the study emphasise the importance of obtaining a ‘high dynamic range in studies of early galaxy evolution’, while also re-affirming the ‘enormous potential’ of ‘forthcoming larger JWST programmes to transform our understanding of the young Universe’.
The JWST is NASA’s largest and most powerful space telescope, which began operating in June 2022.
According to the BBC’s science correspondent Jonathan Amos, the recent discovery will ‘almost certainly be short-lived’, as astronomers have been finding ‘ever more distant candidates’ since the telescope started operating.
“And if the designed performance is achieved, scientists could eventually see objects with Webb that were in existence perhaps as little as 100 million years after the Big Bang,” Amos said.
“So we should expect a succession of announcements in the weeks and months ahead.”