NASA’S James Webb Space Telescope has found the most distant galaxy ever observed

The hits keep on coming with NASA’S James Webb Space Telescope. According to the space agency, the JWST just found the most distant known galaxy ever. The catchily-named JADES-GS-z14-0 galaxy is said to have formed just 290 million years after the big bang, but it features some unique properties that are at odds with that notion.

The galaxy is incredibly large, at 1,600 light years across. It’s also very bright and features an unusual amount of starlight, given how soon it formed after the big bang. This has led researchers Stefano Carniani and Kevin Hainline to ask “how can nature make such a bright, massive, and large galaxy in less than 300 million years?” In cosmic time, that’s barely a blip.

The wavelengths of light emitted from JADES-GS-z14-0, as spotted by the JWST’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument), indicate the presence of strong ionized gas emissions, likely from an abundance of hydrogen and oxygen. This is also weird, as oxygen is not typically present early in the life of a galaxy. This suggests that “multiple generations of very massive stars had already lived their lives before we observed the galaxy.”

A chart of light wavelengths. A chart of light wavelengths.


As always with distant space stuff, we are actually looking at the past, due to the speed of light, so that means that the galaxy spawned those multiple generations of massive stars in under 290 million years. Stars “only” take around ten million years to form, but can take up to 20 billion years to die. However, ultra-massive stars typically have decreased lifespans. So this finding doesn’t exactly rewrite our understanding of the cosmos, but does certainly call into question the nature of star formation in the early life of the universe.

“All of these observations, together, tell us that JADES-GS-z14-0 is not like the types of galaxies that have been predicted by theoretical models and computer simulations to exist in the very early universe,” the researchers told NASA. “It is likely that astronomers will find many such luminous galaxies, possibly at even earlier times, over the next decade with Webb.”

The Webb telescope has made a habit out of redefining our understanding of the cosmos. It has shown us stars being born in the Virgo constellation, found water for the first time orbiting a comet and discovered carbon dioxide on a distant exoplanet, which was a first. All of this has been done in under two years of operation, so who knows what the future will bring.

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