Even the tallest trees, the biggest blue whales, and even the brightest giant stars were once babies. Protostars are the hot core of energy that will one day become stars and galaxies. The formative years of our universe’s history, when billions of stars and galaxies formed and assembled after the Big Bang, have so far been beyond our comprehension.
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Now, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has confirmed the distance of a protocluster of seven galaxies that formed just 650 million years after the Big Bang, or what astronomers call redshift 7.9. The findings were published April 24 in the Astrophysical Journal Letters and are the “first galaxies yet to be confirmed spectroscopically as part of a developing cluster.”
Based on the collected data, a team of astronomers calculated the future development of the nascent cluster. It will likely grow in size and mass to resemble the Coma Cluster, one of the densest galaxies in the modern universe.
“This is a very special and unique site of accelerated galactic evolution, and Webb gave us the unprecedented ability to measure the velocities of these seven galaxies and confidently confirm that they are bound together in a protocluster,” co-author and IPAC-California Institute said. astronomer Takahiro Morishita of Technology in a statement.
JWST’s Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) captured key measurements to confirm both the collective distance of galaxies and the high speeds at which they move within a halo of dark matter. They move through space at more than two million miles per hour, or more than 600 miles per second.
Having these spectral data on hand allowed astronomers to model and map the future development of the gathering group into the modern universe. If it follows the prediction and eventually resembles the Coma Cluster, it could eventually be among the densest collections of galaxies known.
“We can see these distant galaxies as little drops of water in different rivers, and we can see that they will eventually become part of one big mighty river,” Benedetta Vulcani, co-author and an astronomer at Italy’s National Institute for Astrophysics, said in a statement. a declaration.
According to NASA, galaxy clusters are the largest concentrations of mass in the known universe. They can dramatically warp the fabric of space-time itself. This deformation is called gravitational lensing and can have a magnifying effect for objects located beyond the cluster. This allows astronomers to see through the cluster as if it were a giant cosmic magnifying glass. The team in this study was able to use this magnification effect and look through the Pandora Cluster to see the Protocluster.
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Historically, it has been difficult to explore how large clusters like Pandora and Coma first came together because the expansion of the universe stretches light beyond visible wavelengths into the infrared. JWST’s sophisticated infrared instruments were developed to fill these gaps early in the universe’s history.
The team anticipates that future collaboration between JWST and a high-resolution, wide-field survey mission of NASA’s Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope will enable even more results on early galaxy clusters. Roman will be able to identify more protocluster galaxy candidates, while JWST can follow up to confirm these findings with its spectroscopic instruments. Currently, the Roman mission is aiming to launch in May 2027.
“It’s amazing the science we can now dream of doing, now that we have Webb,” co-author and UCLA astronomer Tommaso Treu said in a statement. “With this small protocluster of seven galaxies, at this great distance, we had a 100 percent spectroscopic confirmation rate, demonstrating the future potential to map dark matter and fill in the timeline of the early development of the universe.”