The world’s most powerful space telescope, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, has honed its extremely sensitive instruments on a mysterious object millions of light years away from Earth.
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The object in question is officially called AzTECC71, a dusty star-forming galaxy that dates back to the early stages of the universe, nearly 1 billion years after the occurrence of the Big Bang. Notably, NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope was unable to see the galaxy with its instruments, but follow-up observations from Webb has captured a faint image of the distant galaxy, revealing qualities that previously went unnoticed.
Webb has captured an image of one of the oldest objects in the known universe, and while that is exciting in itself, astronomers are more excited for the implications of such a discovery – stellar nurseries like AzTECC71 could be three to ten times more common than previously thought.
“This thing is a real monster,” said University of Texas postdoctoral researcher Jed McKinney, coauthor of a recent paper published in The Astrophysical Journal, in a new press release. “Even though it looks like a little blob, it’s actually forming hundreds of new stars every year.“
“And the fact that even something that extreme is barely visible in the most sensitive imaging from our newest telescope is so exciting to me,” he added. “It’s potentially telling us there’s a whole population of galaxies that have been hiding from us.“
“Until now, the only way we’ve been able to see galaxies in the early universe is from an optical perspective with Hubble,” McKinney said in the statement. “That means our understanding of the history of galaxy evolution is biased because we’re only seeing the unobscured, less dusty galaxies.“