One of the first spectacular images captured by NASA’s new multi-million pound James Webb Space Telescope captured the universe’s earliest galaxies.
Now early analysis has circled one of these galaxies nine billion light-years from Earth and showed it twinkles with some of the oldest known star clusters, formed shortly after the Big Bang.
These dense clusters of millions of stars could be relics containing the first and oldest stars in the universe.
Dubbed the “Sparkler Galaxy,” the galaxy got its name thanks to the compact objects that appear around it as small yellow-red dots, dubbed “sparkles” by researchers.
They hypothesized that the sparks could be either young clusters of actively forming stars — born three billion years after the Big Bang at the peak of star formation — or old globular clusters.
Globular clusters are ancient collections of stars from the early days of a galaxy and contain clues to their earliest stages of formation and growth.
In their first analysis of 12 of these compact objects, the experts found that five of them are not just globular clusters, but are among the oldest known.
In focus: One of the first spectacular images captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope showed the universe’s earliest galaxies. Now, early analyzes have focused on one of them, the “Sparkler Galaxy” (pictured), which is nine billion light-years from Earth
Their research revealed that the galaxy shines with some of the oldest known star clusters
Experts from Canada’s NIRISS Unbiased Cluster Survey examined the Webb deep field image
The research was conducted by experts from Canada’s NIRISS Unbiased Cluster Survey (CANUCS), examining the deep field image from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
“JWST was built to find the first stars and the first galaxies and to help us understand the origins of complexity in the universe, such as the chemical elements and the building blocks of life,” said the university’s Lamiya Mowla of Toronto and co-lead author of the study.
“This discovery in Webb’s First Deep Field already provides a detailed look at the earliest phase of star formation and confirms the incredible power of JWST.”
The Milky Way has about 150 globular star clusters, and exactly how and when these dense star clusters formed is not well understood.
Astronomers know that globular clusters can be extremely old, but measuring their age is incredibly difficult.
Using very distant globular clusters to date the first stars in distant galaxies has never been done before and is only possible with Webb.
“These newly identified clusters formed just before the first time it was even possible to form stars,” Mowla said.
“Because the Sparkler Galaxy is much more distant than our own Milky Way, it is easier to age its globular clusters.
“We’re observing the sparkler as it looked nine billion years ago, when the universe was only four and a half billion years old, and looking at something that happened a long time ago.
The Milky Way has about 150 globular star clusters, and exactly how and when these dense star clusters formed is not well understood
From their initial analysis of 12 of the compact objects in the Sparkler Galaxy, the experts determined that five of them are not just globular clusters but are among the oldest known
Until now, Hubble astronomers have not been able to see the Sparkler Galaxy’s surrounding compact objects
“Imagine guessing a person’s age based on their looks – it’s easy to tell the difference between a 5-year-old and 10-year-old, but hard to tell the difference between a 50-year-old and 55-year-old. “
Kartheik G. Iyer of the University of Toronto and co-lead author of the study, said: “Looking at the first images from JWST and discovering ancient globular clusters around distant galaxies was an incredible moment, one not possible with previous imaging of the.” Hubble Space Telescope.
“Because we could observe the sparkles over a range of wavelengths, we were able to model them and better understand their physical properties, such as how old they are and how many stars they contain.
“We hope that knowing that globular clusters can be observed from such large distances with JWST will stimulate further science and searches for similar objects.”
Until now, Hubble astronomers have not been able to see the Sparkler Galaxy’s surrounding compact objects.
This changed with Webb’s increased resolution and sensitivity, revealing for the first time the tiny dots surrounding the galaxy in his first deep-field image.
The Sparkler Galaxy is special because it is magnified by a factor of 100 due to an effect called gravitational lensing – in which the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 in the foreground distorts what’s behind it, much like a giant magnifying glass.
In addition, the gravitational lens produces three separate images of the sparklers, allowing astronomers to examine the galaxy in more detail.
Dubbed the “Sparkler Galaxy,” the galaxy got its name thanks to the compact objects that appear as small yellow-red dots around it, dubbed “Sparkles” by CANUCS researchers (pictured).
Webb’s increased resolution and sensitivity revealed the tiny “sparkler” dots surrounding the galaxy for the first time in its first deep-field image
“Our study of sparklers underscores the tremendous power of combining the unique capabilities of JWST with the natural magnification provided by gravitational lensing,” said Chris Willott, leader of the CANUCS team at the National Research Council’s Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Center.
“The team looks forward to more discoveries as the JWST turns its gaze to the CANUCS galaxy clusters next month.”
The researchers combined new data from JWST’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) with HST archive data. NIRCam detects faint objects with longer and redder wavelengths to observe beyond what is visible to the human eye and even HST.
Both the magnifications due to the galaxy cluster’s lenses and the high resolution of JWST have enabled the observation of compact objects.
The Canadian-made Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) instrument on JWST provided independent confirmation that the objects are old globular clusters, as the researchers did not observe any oxygen emission lines – emissions with measurable spectra inherited from young ones active star clusters form stars.
NIRISS also helped unravel the geometry of the sparklers’ triple-lens images.
“JWST’s Canadian-made NIRISS instrument was critical in helping us understand how the three images of the sparkler and its globular clusters are related,” said Marcin Sawicki, a professor at Saint Mary’s University in Canada and a co-author of the Study.
“The three-time acquisition of several Sparkler globular clusters made it clear that they orbit the Sparkler galaxy and not just happen to be in front of it.”
Future studies will also model the galaxy cluster to understand lensing and perform more robust analyzes to explain star formation histories.
The research was published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope was designed to discover light from the earliest stars and galaxies
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unlock the mysteries of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early Universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and to observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The giant telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is believed to be the successor to the Hubble orbiting space telescope
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius).
It is the largest and most powerful orbital space telescope in the world, able to look back 100 to 200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is said to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA considers James Webb to be Hubble’s successor rather than a replacement as the two will be working together for a while.
The Hubble Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits the Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph (27,300 km/h) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles altitude.
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