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97% of the Age of the Universe – Astronomers Confirm Age of Most Distant Galaxy With Oxygen

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The radio telescope array ALMA has pin-pointed the exact cosmic age of a distant JWST-identified galaxy, GHZ2/GLASS-z12, at 367 million years after the Big Bang. ALMA’s deep spectroscopic observations revealed a spectral emission line associated with ionized Oxygen near the galaxy, which has been shifted in its observed frequency due to the expansion of the Universe since the line was emitted. This observation confirms that the JWST is able to look out to record distances, and heralds a leap in our ability to understand the formation of the earliest galaxies in the Universe. Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / T. Treu, UCLA / NAOJ / T. Bakx, Nagoya U.

A new study led by a joint team at <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Nagoya University
Nagoya University, sometimes abbreviated as NU, is a Japanese national research university located in Chikusa-ku, Nagoya. It was the seventh Imperial University in Japan, one of the first five Designated National University and selected as a Top Type university of Top Global University Project by the Japanese government. It is one of the highest ranked higher education institutions in Japan.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>Nagoya University and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan has measured the cosmic age of a very distant galaxy. The team used the ALMA radio telescope array to detect a radio signal that has been traveling for approximately 97% of the age of the Universe. This discovery confirms the existence of galaxies in the very early Universe found by the <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

James Webb Space Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST or Webb) is an orbiting infrared observatory that will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope. It covers longer wavelengths of light, with greatly improved sensitivity, allowing it to see inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today as well as looking further back in time to observe the first galaxies that formed in the early universe.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>James Webb Space Telescope. The research is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The galaxy, named GHZ2/GLASS-z12, was initially identified in the JWST GLASS survey, a survey that observes the distant Universe and behind massive clusters of galaxies. These observations consist of several images using different broad-band color filters, similar to the separate RGB colors in a camera. For distant galaxies, the light takes such a long time to reach us that the expansion of the Universe has shifted the color of this light towards the red end of the visible light spectrum in the so-called redshift. The red color of GHZ2/GLASS-z12 consequently helped researchers identify it as one of the most convincing candidates for a distant galaxy they observed.

So many bright distant galaxies were identified in the first few weeks of James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) observations that it challenged our basic understanding of the formation of the earliest galaxies. However, these red colors are only indicative of a distant galaxy, and could instead be a very dust-rich galaxy masquerading as a more distant object. Only direct observations of spectral lines – lines present in a galaxy’s light spectrum used to identify the elements present – can robustly confirm the true distances of these galaxies.

Immediately after the discovery of these early galaxy candidates, two early-career researchers at Nagoya University and the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan used the forty radio telescopes of the <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

ALMA
The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) is the largest ground-based facility for observations in the millimeter/submillimeter regime in the world. ALMA comprises 66 high-precision dish antennas of measuring either 12 meters across or 7 meters across and spread over distances of up to 16 kilometers. It is an international partnership between Europe, the United States, Japan, and the Republic of Chile.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>ALMA array in Chile to hunt for a spectral line to confirm the true ages of the galaxies.

The image of galaxy GHZ2/GLASS-z12 with the associated ALMA spectrum. ALMA’s deep spectroscopic observations revealed a spectral emission line associated with ionized Oxygen near the galaxy, which has been shifted in its observed frequency due to the expansion of the Universe since the line was emitted. Credit: NASA / ESA / CSA / T. Treu, UCLA / NAOJ / T. Bakx, Nagoya U.

ALMA pointed at GHZ2/GLASS-z12 to hunt for an emission line associated with oxygen at the expected frequency suggested by the JWST observations. Oxygen is a typically abundant element in distant galaxies due to its relatively short formation timescale, therefore the team chose to search for an oxygen emission line to increase the chances of detection.

By combining the signal of each of its 12-meter telescopes, ALMA was able to detect the emission line close to the position of the galaxy. The observed redshift of the line indicates we see the galaxy as it was just 367 million years after the Big Bang.

“The first images of the James Webb Space Telescope revealed so many early galaxies, that we felt we had to test its results using the best observatory on Earth,” said lead author Tom Bakx of Nagoya University. “It was a very exciting time to be an observational astronomer, and we could track the status of the observations that will test the JWST results in real-time.”

“We were initially concerned about the slight variation in position between the detected oxygen emission line and the galaxy seen by Webb,” author Tom Bakx notes, “but we performed detailed tests on the observations to confirm that this really is a robust detection, and it is very difficult to explain through any other interpretation.”

Co-lead author Jorge Zavala of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan adds, “The bright line emission indicates that this galaxy has quickly enriched its gas reservoirs with elements heavier than hydrogen and helium. This gives us some clues about the formation and evolution of the first generation of stars and their lifetime. The small separation we see between the oxygen gas and the stars’ emission might also suggest that these early galaxies suffered from violent explosions that blew the gas away from the galaxy centre into the region surrounding the galaxy and even beyond.”

“These deep ALMA observations provide robust evidence of the existence of galaxies within the first few hundred million years after the <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="

Big Bang
The Big Bang is the leading cosmological model explaining how the universe as we know it began approximately 13.8 billion years ago.

” data-gt-translate-attributes=”[{“attribute”:”data-cmtooltip”, “format”:”html”}]”>Big Bang, and confirms the surprising results from the Webb observations. The work of JWST has only just begun, but we are already adjusting our models of how galaxies form in the early Universe to match these observations. The combined power of Webb and the radio telescope array ALMA gives us the confidence to push our cosmic horizons ever closer to the dawn of the Universe.”

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