Star clusters formed 460 million years after the Big Bang discovered by the James Webb Telescope

Astronomers have discovered five young star clusters, the oldest of which date back to the universe’s infancy. According to an international team led by Stockholm University, with collaborators from selected European countries, the United States and Japan, these gravitationally bound massive clusters could provide important clues about the reorientation era of the universe.

„This is the first discovery of star clusters in a baby galaxy 500 million years after the Big Bang,” the European Space Agency (ESA) said in a statement released on Monday.

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The Cosmic Gems arc was initially discovered in NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope images obtained by the RELICS (Reionization Lensing Cluster Survey) program of the lensing galaxy cluster SPT-CL J0615-5746, NASA said in a release.

„These galaxies are thought to be the main source of intense radiation that reshaped the early universe,” shared lead author Angela Adamo of Stockholm University and the Oscar Klein Center in Sweden. „What’s special about the Cosmic Gems arc is that gravitational lensing can resolve the galaxy down to parsec scales!”

Astronomers can now see where stars form and how they are distributed, similar to how the Hubble Space Telescope is used to study local galaxies. Webb’s view offers a unique opportunity to study star formation and the inner workings of baby galaxies at unprecedented distances.

„Webb’s incredible sensitivity and angular resolution at near-infrared wavelengths, combined with the gravitational lensing provided by the massive foreground galaxy cluster, enabled this discovery,” explained Larry Bradley of the Space Telescope Science Institute. „No other telescope could have made this discovery.”

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„The surprise and amazement when we opened Web Images for the first time was incredible,” Adamo added. „We saw a small chain of bright points reflecting from one side to the other – these cosmic gems are star clusters! Without the web, we would not have known to see star clusters in such a young galaxy!”

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains many ancient globular clusters of gravitationally bound stars that have lived for billions of years. These clusters are relics of intense star formation in the early universe, but their exact origins and timing of formation are not well understood.

The detection of massive young star clusters in this curve has the potential to initiate a series of studies of the early stages of the star formation process and subsequent formation into globular clusters. The discovery is important because it will help scientists better understand how and where baby galaxies are born.

„These galaxies are thought to be the main source of intense radiation that re-ionized the early universe,” said Angela Adamo of Stockholm University and lead author of the paper published in the journal Nature.

The discovery also serves as direct evidence of proto-globular clusters forming in faint galaxies during the reionization phase of the universe, strengthening the understanding that galaxies play a key role in reionizing the universe.

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