Astronomers have been jumping at each other into the past lately. Last week, a group using the Hubble Space Telescope announced that they had discovered what could be The farthest and oldest star ever seennicknamed Earendel, which glowed 12.9 billion years ago, only 900 million years after the Big Bang.
Now another international group of astronomers, pushing the boundaries of Earth’s largest telescopes, say they’ve discovered what appears to be the oldest and most distant group of starlight ever seen: a reddish point usefully called HD1, which was pouring out massive amounts of energy only after 330 million years from the Big Bang. This realm of time has not yet been explored. Another point, HD2 appears almost at a distance.
Astronomers can only guess what these blobs are – galaxies, quasars, or maybe something else entirely – while they wait for their chance to observe them with the new James Webb Space Telescope. Whatever it is, astronomers say, they can shed light on a crucial stage in the universe as it evolved from primordial fire to planets, life, and us.
“I was excited as a kid who watched the first fireworks in a fantastic and highly anticipated show,” said Fabio Paccucci of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. “This could be one of the first flashes of light illuminating the universe in a show that eventually created every star, planet, and even flower we see around us today – more than 13 billion years later.”
Dr. Bakuchi was part of a team led by Yuichi Harikan of the University of Tokyo that spent 1,200 hours using various ground-based telescopes to search for very early galaxies. Their findings were published Thursday in Astrophysical Journal and the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. It was their work too Mentioned in Sky & Telescope magazine earlier this year.
Learn more about the James Webb Space Telescope
After traveling nearly a million miles, the James Webb Space Telescope has reached its destination. He will spend years observing the universe.
In the expanding universe, the farther away an object is from us, the faster it is moving away from us. Just as the sound of an ambulance siren goes into a lower tone, this movement causes body light to shift to longer red wavelengths. In search of the farthest galaxies, the astronomers searched about 70,000 objects, with HD1 being the reddest they could find.
“The red color of HD1 surprisingly matched the expected characteristics of a galaxy 13.5 billion light-years away, which gave me goosebumps when I found it,” Dr. Harrikan said in a statement released by the Astrophysical Center.
However, the gold standard for cosmic distances is redshift, which is derived from obtaining a spectrum from an object and measuring how much wavelengths emitted by the characteristic elements increase or turn red. Using the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array, or ALMA – an array of radio telescopes in Chile – Dr Harikane and his team obtained a temporary redshift of HD1 of 13, which means that the wavelength of light emitted by an oxygen atom has been extended to 14 times that of a wavelength at stillness. The redshift of the other mass was not determined.
The hypothesized galaxy dates back only 330 million years after time began, and it hits the hunting ground of the Webb Telescope, which will also be able to confirm a redshift measurement.
“If the ALMA redshift can be confirmed, that would be a really amazing thing,” he said. Marcia Ricci of the University of Arizona, and is a principal investigator for the Webb Telescope.
According to the story astronomers tell, the path to the universe as we know it began about 100 million years after the Big Bang, when the hydrogen and helium that arose in the primordial explosion began to condense into the first stars, known as Stars 3 (Population) 1 and 2, which contain They contain large amounts of heavy elements, which are present in galaxies today). Such stars, made up of hydrogen and helium only, have never been observed, and would have been much larger and brighter than those in the universe today. They would have burned out hot and died quickly in supernova explosions which then set off chemical evolution to pollute the original universe with elements like oxygen and iron, which are things from us.
Dr. Bakuchi said they initially thought HD1 and HD2 were the so-called starburst galaxies, which are bursting with new stars. But after further research, they discovered that HD1 appears to be producing stars 10 times faster than those galaxies usually do.
Another possibility, Dr. Pacochi said, is that this galaxy was the birth of that first super-bright group of three stars. Another explanation is that all this radiation comes from material scattering in a supermassive black hole 100 million times the mass of the Sun. But astronomers have a hard time explaining how the black hole could have grown so large so early in cosmic time.
Was she born like this – in the chaos of the Big Bang – or was she just really hungry?
“HD1 would represent a giant baby in the delivery room in the early universe,” said Avi Loeb, co-author of Dr. Bakuchi’s paper.