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Starts With A Bang

5 big lessons from JWST’s new record-setting galaxy

A new all-time record! JWST’s discovery of JADES-GS-z14-0 pushes the earliest galaxy ever seen to just 290 million years after the Big Bang.
With newly acquired spectroscopic data from JWST's NIRSpec instrument, galaxy JADES-GS-z14-0, shown in the inset at top-right, has just broken the all-time record for the most distant/highest redshift galaxy ever discovered.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, B. Robertson (UC Santa Cruz), B. Johnson (CfA), S. Tacchella (Cambridge), P. Cargile (CfA)
Key Takeaways
  • With new spectroscopic follow-up data from the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) collaboration, galaxy JADES-GS-z14-0 has just broken the all-time record for most distant galaxy.
  • Not only does this galaxy teach us that relatively large, bright galaxies already existed when the Universe was under 300 million years old, it raises the possibility of stars and galaxies even beyond JWST’s limits.
  • From lessons about star-formation to the evolution of dust in the Universe, here are the five biggest lessons from JWST’s new record-setting galaxy.

Everywhere we look, our Universe is full of luminous matter.

Perseus cluster NGC 1277 highlight
The ‘red-and-dead’ galaxy NGC 1277 is found inside the Perseus cluster. While the other galaxies contain a mix of red-and-blue stars, this galaxy hasn’t formed new stars in approximately 10 billion years. Foreground, closer objects, like stars, as well as more distant galaxies, are all ubiquitous throughout this image.
Credit: NASA, ESA, M. Beasley (Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias), and P. Kehusmaa

Galaxies, powered by stars, exist strewn throughout the cosmos.

Abell 2744 pandora's cluster
The galaxies that compose Pandora’s Cluster, Abell 2744, are present within the three separate cluster components easily visually identifiable, while the remaining background sources are scattered all throughout the Universe, including many from the first ~1 billion years of cosmic history. This field of view is now known to contain many of the earliest galaxies ever found, as well as the youngest proto-cluster of galaxies ever discovered to date: just 650 million years after the Big Bang.
Credit: R. Bezanson et al., ApJ submitted, JWST UNCOVER Treasury Survey, 2023

Farther away, they are bluer, smaller, and less evolved.

milky way galaxies cosmic time
Galaxies comparable to the present-day Milky Way are numerous, but younger galaxies that are Milky Way-like are inherently smaller, bluer, more chaotic, and richer in gas in general than the galaxies we see today. For the first galaxies of all, this effect goes to the extreme. As far back as we’ve ever seen, galaxies obey these rules.
Credit: NASA, ESA, P. van Dokkum (Yale U.), S. Patel (Leiden U.), and the 3-D-HST Team

Even at our instruments’ limits, galaxies still abound.

This tiny fraction of the JADES survey area, taken with JWST’s NIRCam instrument, showcases relatively nearby galaxies in detail, galaxies at intermediate distances that appear grouped together, and even ultra-distant galaxies that may be interacting or forming stars, despite their faint nature and red appearance. We are only beginning to probe the full richness of the cosmos with JWST.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, B. Robertson (UC Santa Cruz), B. Johnson (CfA), S. Tacchella (Cambridge), P. Cargile (CfA)

No deeper view exists than JADES: the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey.

This image shows the region of study of the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES). This area includes and contains the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field and reveals new galaxies at record-breaking distances that Hubble could not see. The colors on JWST images are not “true color” but rather are assigned based on a variety of choices. This image, released in December of 2022, has since been augmented by follow-on observations within the same region of space, with spectroscopic observations required to determine the distance to these galaxies.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, M. Zamani (ESA/Webb); Science credits: Brant Robertson (UC Santa Cruz), S. Tacchella (Cambridge), E. Curtis-Lake (UOH), S. Carniani (Scuola Normale Superiore), JADES Collaboration

With new spectroscopic data, the cosmic distance record has fallen again.

This image shows the spectrum, or intensity as a function of wavelength, of the distant galaxy JADES-GS-z14-0 as acquired with JWST’s NIRSpec instrument. The Lyman break feature tells us that the galaxy is at a redshift of z=14.32, corresponding to an age of the Universe at that time of just 285 million years.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, J. Olmsted (STScI). Science: S. Carniani (Scuola Normale Superiore), JADES Collaboration

JADES-GS-z14-0 is now the most distant galaxy ever found: just 285 million years after the Big Bang.

If you plot the cosmic distance record over time, it’s clear that there were many big jumps: in the 1960s, in the late 1990s, and now again in the 2020s in the JWST era. Although there are still uncertainties in cosmology, this new record-breaking galaxy must appear between 270 and 305 million years after the Big Bang.
Credit: Stefano Carniani/Kevin Hainline/Twitter

Here are the 5 big lessons we’ve already learned from its discovery.

Shown within the context of the JWST JADES field, galaxy JADEs-GS-z14-0 is completely unremarkable, but nevertheless has just broken the cosmic distance record again, becoming the first galaxy ever found when the Universe was under 300 million years old: just 2.1% of its current age.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, B. Robertson (UC Santa Cruz), B. Johnson (CfA), S. Tacchella (Cambridge), P. Cargile (CfA)

1.) Not all early galaxies are compact.

Among the most distant galaxies, GN-z11 and GHZ2 are among the brightest, and yet are still remarkably compact. JADES-GS-z14-1 is more typical: fainter but still very compact, while JADES-GS-z14-0 is more puzzling: bright and extended, suggesting a physical size of ~1700 light-years at its incredible distance.
Credit: S. Carniani et al. (JADES collaboration), arXiv:2405.18485, 2024

Although (second place) JADES-GS-z14-1 is point-like, its more distant sibling already spans 1,700 light-years across.

The galaxy JADES-GS-z14-0, alongside an interloping, much closer unrelated galaxy that happens to be along the exact same line-of-sight. Its extended nature is clearly visible even in this blown-up NIRCam image of the two galaxies.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, B. Robertson (UC Santa Cruz), B. Johnson (CfA), S. Tacchella (Cambridge), P. Cargile (CfA); Annotations: E. Siegel

2.) Not all ultra-distant galaxy candidates are correct.

ultra-distant galaxy candidates JADES
Before JWST, there were about 40 ultra-distant galaxy candidates known, primarily via Hubble’s observations. Early JWST results revealed many more ultra-distant galaxy candidates, but now a whopping 717 of them have been found in just the JADES 125 square-arcminute field-of-view. The entire night sky is more than 1 million times grander in scale. While some candidates will survive spectroscopic follow-up, others will not. Much science remains to be conducted.
Credit: Kevin Hainline for the JADES Collaboration, AAS242

Some possible ultra-distant galaxies are simply dusty and intrinsically red, spectroscopy reveals.

While JADES-GS-z14-0 and JADES-GS-z14-1 (in red) have turned out to be real, ultra-distant galaxies, many of the galaxy candidates (in blue) will turn out to be impostors at smaller distances from us: just intrinsically red and/or dusty. The blue dot with a black circle around it was also examined by NIRSpec, was unable to have its redshift confirmed based on the data acquired.
Credit: S. Carniani et al. (JADES collaboration), arXiv:2405.18485, 2024

3.) Some galaxies are “hidden” by closer interlopers.

JADES-GS-z14-0, in the top inset box, is found behind (and just to the right of) a closer, brighter, bluer galaxy. It was only through the power of spectroscopy with incredible resolution, capable of separating the two sources, that the nature of the more distant object could be determined.
Credit: S. Carniani et al. (JADES collaboration), arXiv:2405.18485, 2024

JADES-GS-z14-0 was only found by disentangling this galaxy from a closer one along the same line-of-sight.

The highly advanced NIRSpec instrument aboard JWST can take the light from a very tiny region of space. By pointing the telescope correctly, the desired sources, JADES-GS-z14-0 and JADES-GS-z14-1 in this case, can be acquired separately from even extremely nearby, partially overlapping sources.
Credit: S. Carniani et al. (JADES collaboration), arXiv:2405.18485, 2024

4.) This new record-holder is remarkably, unexpectedly bright.

By superimposing the spectra of the three most distant galaxies ever discovered on the same graph, JADES-GS-z13-0 (the former record holder), JADES-GS-z14-0 (the current record holder), and JADES-GS-z14-1 (newly discovered along with JADES-GS-z14-0), we can compare the brightnesses of these three galaxies. The most distant one is also the brightest by a factor of 4 or 5, posing a puzzle for astronomers.
Credit: Kevin Hainline/JADES Collaboration

Five times brighter than the prior (JADES-GS-z13-0) record-holder, JADES-GS-z14-0 is even shockingly visible to MIRI’s eyes.

This four-panel spread shows four different views of galaxy JADES-GS-z14-0 with photometric MIRI data. The fact that this galaxy has so much emission at 7.7 microns suggests that neutral, heated hydrogen (Balmer beta) and doubly ionized oxygen are both present in great abundances.
Credit: J.M. Helton et al. (JADES collaboration), arXiv:2405:18462, 2024

5.) But this galaxy is extremely dust-poor.

Whereas galaxies found at later times typically exhibit large amounts of dust, consistent with theories of dust production from supernova events, these two new record-breaking galaxies show evidence for dust produced only through AGB stars, not through supernova. This is a mysterious surprise in the new data, as the MIRI data, and the presence of doubly ionized oxygen, suggest a supernova-rich past.
Credit: S. Carniani et al. (JADES collaboration), arXiv:2405.18485, 2024

The lack of dust inside JADES-GS-z14-0 presents a novel puzzle.

SN 1987a JWST
The central region of supernova remnant SN 1987A, as seen for the first time by JWST’s NIRCam instrument in 2023. The gaseous and dusty features in the interior of the remnant have been revealed in greater detail by JWST than any observatory previous, as core-collapse supernovae are incredible sites for the production of cosmic dust.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Mikako Matsuura (Cardiff University), Richard Arendt (NASA-GSFC, UMBC), Claes Fransson (Stockholm University), Josefin Larsson (KTH); Processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

With JWST, our Universe’s past continues to come into focus.

Even from this zoomed-in view of the JADES field, it’s very difficult to pick out the most distant galaxy ever found, JADES-GS-z14-0, by eye. This animation shows its location with a green circle: overlapping with a brighter, bluer, closer galaxy.
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, B. Robertson (UC Santa Cruz), B. Johnson (CfA), S. Tacchella (Cambridge), P. Cargile (CfA); Animation: E. Siegel

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