The James Webb Space Telescope may have discovered a 13.5-billion-year-old galaxy — making it the oldest and most distant star system ever observed. The galaxy called GLASS-z13 was formed around 300 million years after the Big Bang, Rohan Naidu from the Center for Astrophysics at Harvard University told the AFP news agency on Wednesday. "We are potentially seeing the most distant starlight anyone has ever seen."
The discovery by a team of 25 astronomers from around the world is based on preliminary data from a space telescope instrument that captures infrared rays. When the data is visualized, the galaxy appears as a red circle with a brighter center. The evaluation has already been submitted to a specialist journal, but has not yet been independently checked by other scientists.
Nevertheless, experts reacted enthusiastically to the possible discovery. "Astronomy records are already falling and others are beginning to falter," wrote the chief scientist at the US space agency Nasa, Thomas Zurbuchen, on Twitter. Normally he only cheers after study results have been checked by other scientists. "But this looks very promising."
Nasa researcher Naidu said another team of astronomers analyzed the same data and came to a similar conclusion. "That gives us confidence."
NASA released the first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope last week. The spectacular images included galaxies 13 billion years old and the Carina Nebula, a cloud of cosmic dust and gas 7,600 light-years away.
The James Webb telescope, also built with German participation, was launched in December after decades of preparation. It is now more than a million kilometers from Earth.
It explores the early days of the cosmos, just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang around 13.8 billion years ago. Astronomers hope to draw conclusions about the formation of the first stars and galaxies. The telescope also searches space for exoplanets.