The second- and fourth-most distant galaxies ever observed have been discovered in a region of space known as Pandora’s Cluster, or Abell 2744, using data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Following up on a deep field image of the area, an international team led by Penn State researchers confirmed the distance of these ancient galaxies and inferred their properties using new spectroscopic data — information about light emitted across the electromagnetic spectrum — from JWST. At nearly 33 billion light years away, these incredibly distant galaxies offer insights into how the earliest galaxies might have formed.
Unlike other galaxies confirmed at this distance that appear in images as red dots, the new galaxies are larger and appear like a peanut and a fluffy ball, according to the researchers. A paper describing the galaxies appears today (Nov 13) in the journal Astrophysical Journal Letters.
“Very little is known about the early universe, and the only way to learn about that time and to test our theories of early galaxy formation and growth is with these very distant galaxies,” said first-author Bingjie Wang, postdoctoral scholar in the Penn State Eberly College of Science and a member of the JWST UNCOVER (Ultradeep NIRSpec and NIRCam ObserVations before the Epoch of Reionization) team that conducted the research. “Prior to our analysis, we knew of only three galaxies confirmed at around this extreme distance. Studying these new galaxies and their properties has revealed the diversity of galaxies in the early universe and how much there is to be learned from them.”
Because the light from these galaxies had to travel for so long to reach Earth, it provides a window into the past. The research team estimates that the light detected by JWST was emitted by the two galaxies when the universe was about 330 million years old and traveled for about 13.4 billion light years to reach the JWST. But, the researchers said, the galaxies are currently closer to…