Earlier this year, NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope, the £8.4billion spiritual successor to the Hubble, offering an unprecedented insight into the universe. Now using that powerful orbiting device, researchers have captured two new images which show what may be among the earliest galaxies ever observed. These images have captured objects from more than 13 billion years ago, offering an even wider field of view than Webb’s First Deep Field image, which vowed the world when it was first unveiled last month.
The team of researchers spotted one particular object, which they believe was formed just 290 million years after the Big Bang.
The object was dubbed Maisie’s galaxy in honour of project head Steven Finkelstein’s daughter.
The findings have yet to be peer-reviewed, and are currently published on the preprint server arXiv.
Once confirmed, Maisie’s galaxy would be one of the earliest ever observed, which suggests that galaxies began forming in the universe much earlier than astronomers previously thought.
These unprecedented images reveal a host of complex galaxies evolving over time, with some shaped like pinwheels, and others resembling “blobby toddlers”.
The images, which took about 24 hours to collect, from a patch of sky near the handle of the Big Dipper, a constellation formally named Ursa Major.
This same section of the sky was observed previously by the Hubble Space Telescope, as seen in the Extended Groth Strip.
Prof Finkelstein of The University of Texas at Austin and the principal investigator for the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS) said: “It’s amazing to see a point of light from Hubble turn into a whole, beautifully shaped galaxy in these new James Webb images, and other galaxies just pop up out of nowhere.”
The impressive image is actually a composite mosaic of 690 individual frames that took about 24 hours to collect using the telescope’s main imager, called the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam)
This new image covers an area of the sky about eight times as large as Webb’s First Deep Field image, although it is not quite as deep.
The researchers then used some of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, like Stampede2 and Frontera, to stitch the images together.
Prof Finkelstein said: “High-performance computing power made it possible to combine myriad images and hold the frames in memory at once for processing, resulting in a single beautiful image.”