A previously inconspicuous orange dot within a deep space image captured by the Webb Space Telescope has transformed into a momentous astronomical discovery. This newfound celestial gem, christened Maisie’s galaxy, traces its origins back approximately 390 million years after the Big Bang—an astonishing relic from the universe’s early days. The universe’s estimated age stands at 13.77 billion years, providing context for the ancient nature of this galactic find. Named after the daughter of the project’s chief investigator, Steven Finkelstein, an esteemed astronomer at the University of Texas at Austin, the galaxy’s revelation was an integral part of the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS) undertaken in June 2022.
A captivating 3D visualization shared by the Space Telescope Science Institute takes spectators on a breathtaking cosmic odyssey, culminating with a mesmerizing view of Maisie’s galaxy. This animation underscores the vastness of space as it traverses distances at an astonishing pace of 200 million light-years per second, offering a stark reminder of the cosmos’ sheer expanse.
The CEERS initiative harnesses the Webb Space Telescope’s advanced capabilities, including its Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), and spectrograph (NIRSpec), to capture extensive swaths of celestial territory. This reservoir of data empowers astronomers to unravel the intricacies of galaxies in the ancient universe—unveiling their quantity, nature, morphology, as well as the underlying conditions of star formation and the growth of enigmatic black holes.
The CEERS observation region encompassing Maisie’s galaxy materializes through an awe-inspiring amalgamation of 690 distinct frames, ingeniously woven into a panoramic tapestry. Given the magnitude of data gleaned from the Webb Space Telescope’s gaze, alternate means are necessary to grasp the full-scale imagery.
This recent scientific endeavor undertook a meticulous spectroscopic analysis, corroborating the presence of two luminous galaxies at redshifts surpassing 11. Maisie’s galaxy, in particular, earned a staggering redshift value of 11.4—an emblematic signpost of its ancient origins. Notably, one potential galaxy initially postulated to possess a redshift of around 16 was recalibrated to a redshift of 4.9. This revised determination underlines the pivotal role of spectroscopic methodologies in validating the ages of galaxies.
Steven Finkelstein underscores the significance of this correction, emphasizing that the recalibrated lower redshift aligns more harmoniously with the galaxy’s intrinsic luminosity. With the Webb Space Telescope’s scientific endeavors spanning only a year thus far, the prospect of unearthing galaxies that predate those identified by the CEERS team beckons tantalizingly. As Webb’s cosmic journey continues to unfold, the universe’s ancient secrets await their unveiling.