Astronomers using the Webb telescope have made a remarkable discovery in a distant galaxy, more than 12 billion light-years away. The telescope has revealed evidence of complex organic molecules, similar to smoke or smog, which are highlighted in orange in the false-color image. What’s more, the galaxy appears to be almost perfectly lined up with a second galaxy only three billion light-years away from Earth. This remarkable find offers clues about how life may have formed in the early universe and provides an exciting glimpse into the evolution of galaxies.This new finding is a massive breakthrough for astronomy and highlights the capability of the James Webb Space Telescope to detect complex chemistry in even the earliest galaxies. It also shows that the origins of stars, and other complex organic molecules, may reach further back than previously thought. This discovery will open new doors for astronomers in understanding the evolution of the universe.
Using the Webb telescope, Texas A&M University astronomer Justin Spilker and his collaborators have made a remarkable discovery; they have found organic molecules in a galaxy more than 12 billion light-years away. This galaxy was first discovered by the National Science Foundation’s South Pole Telescope in 2013 and has since been studied by many observatories, including ALMA and the Hubble Space Telescope. The extreme distance of the galaxy meant that the light detected by the astronomers had started its journey when the universe was less than 1.5 billion years old, about 10% of its current age. Spilker credits this incredible find to both the combined powers of Webb and fate, as well as a phenomenon called gravitational lensing. Lensing, originally predicted by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, occurs when two galaxies are almost perfectly aligned from our point of view on Earth. The light from the background galaxy is then stretched and magnified by the foreground galaxy, forming an Einstein ring.
The study of galaxies in the early universe has been made possible by the amazing capabilities of the Webb telescope combined with the cosmic magnifying glass. According to assistant professor in the Texas A&M Department of Physics and Astronomy, Dr. Spilker, and a member of the George P. and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Institute for Fundamental Physics and Astronomy, the magnification level provided by this combination was what brought them to observe this galaxy in the first place. Without the use of this combination, they would have never been able to get such a close look at a galaxy in such early stages of formation. The magnification has made it possible for us to see all the details that make up a galaxy in its early stages that we could never observe with any other method.