If you are following Captain America himselfYou’ve likely come across a story about the James Webb Space Telescope’s latest discovery: “the oldest galaxy we’ve ever seen.”Or maybe,
That’s exactly what we were promised from the James Webb Space Telescope. Just a week ago, the collective world jaw hit the earth when. Now the telescope starts properly But researchers have already had access to much of the data collected during the commissioning phase of the JWST and released early to researchers around the world.
That’s how we ended up finding the “oldest galaxy” so quickly. Scientists searched a particular data set in search of distant galaxies and found a candidate They named it GL-z13, a recall of the current confirmed record holder, GNz11.
There is more work to be done to confirm that the GL-z13 is in fact the new record holder – and some will require more time to steer Webb into the galaxy – but with that being said, several publications have already crowned this galactic world champion.
How did we get here then? Is this the “oldest galaxy” at all?
Over the past 24 hours, two different research groups have uploaded papers (one here, one here) for arXiv detailing their search for very distant galaxies in the James Webb data.
The website “arXiv” (I pronounce it “ark-siv” because I’m a pagan, but others assure me it’s pronounced “archive”) is a prepress repository, a place for scientists to drop studies so they can be quickly published to their peers. It’s a great place to quickly conduct new research into the world, especially for astronomy and astrophysics, with the caveat that the results have not been peer-reviewed—an important checkpoint for validating the study and its methods.
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I don’t want to go out of the party for the GL-z13, but I do want to exercise a little caution. When communicating the results with such certainty, there is a possibility that readers will lose faith in the scientists if GL-z13 turns out to be something else entirely. Many astronomers I’ve spoken with believe the data is quite convincing and it’s possible that the galaxy lies a long (long) distance away, but until this is confirmed, GL-z13 cannot take the title of “oldest galaxy”.
And for some, even that title itself is a bit misleading.
You see, GL-Z13 isn’t really the “oldest galaxy ever” – it comes from a time when the universe was barely 330 million years old. The light from that galaxy? Well, yes, it is very old. It took a long time to get to JWST. But the galaxy itself, if confirmed, would likely be smaller A galaxy has ever been seen, according to Nick Seymour, an astrophysicist at Curtin University in Western Australia.
“330 million years after the Big Bang, it can’t be more than 100 million years old at best,” Seymour said. “And then, this is really a small galaxy at the dawn of history.”
Excitement about breaking records in space is a given. As a science journalist, I do this practically every day. But when reporting new discoveries, it is important to convey the uncertainty. In headlines, in social posts, in the way we discuss scientific progress. We have to set the right standard and leave in this uncertainty. The GL-z13’s tale is a great one, and it’s just getting started. Astronomers now have to study them a lot to make sure the distances are correct.
“There’s obviously a lot of follow-up work to be done, but it’s really kind of a glimpse of where things are going with James Webb,” said Michael Brown, an astrophysicist at Monash University.
It was only in April, before the web roamed the universe. This galaxy is believed to date back to a time when the universe was about 330 million years old. Brown noted at the time that it was helpful to be careful about handing over the title to HD1 because the data could point to a galaxy billions of light-years closer to Earth. To confirm the distance, just as with the GL-z13, we need more feedback.
You know what telescope might be able to do this? You guessed it: JWST.
We’re intrigued by record-breaking, but perhaps the most interesting point of all of this is that if Webb works as expected (and), the Oldest Galaxy title will change as much as WWE’s 24/7 Hardcore Championship. We will find new galaxies far back in time at a pace we never dreamed of.
If that’s the case, I expect it won’t be long before the record breaks down.
Updated July 22nd: Title changed and context added to the oldest paragraph in the galaxy.
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