The most distant molecules in the universe have been detected at a distance of 12 billion light years

College Station, Texas – The James Webb Space Telescope has discovered the most distant molecules in the universe, located 12 billion light-years away. The discovered molecules are like smoke, soot or fog on Earth and were seen in light traveling from the galaxy when the universe was less than 1.5 billion years old, when the universe was only 10 percent of its current age. .

A technique discovered in 2013 to get a closer look at the galaxy is called gravitational lensing. This phenomenon occurs when two galaxies are almost perfectly aligned from Earth's point of view, and the background galaxy's light is stretched and magnified into a ring-like shape called an Einstein ring.

„By combining the amazing capabilities of the web with the natural 'cosmic magnifying glass,' we were able to see even more detail than we could,” says Justin Spilker, lead researcher and assistant professor of astronomy at Texas A&M University. Media release. „That level of magnification really made us interested in seeing this galaxy first through the web, because it really allows us to see all the rich details about the formation of a galaxy in the early universe that we would never be able to do otherwise.”

The galaxy observed by Webb shows an Einstein ring caused by a phenomenon called lensing, which occurs when two galaxies are almost perfectly aligned in our view from Earth. The gravitational force of the foreground galaxy distorts and magnifies the light of the background galaxy, as if viewed through the stem of a wine glass. Because they are magnified, lensing allows astronomers to study more distant galaxies in greater detail than would otherwise be possible.
(Credit: S. Doyle / J. Spilker)

Data from the Webb telescope revealed the presence of large organic molecules such as smoke and smog, the building blocks of cancer-causing hydrocarbon emissions that contribute to atmospheric pollution on Earth. Surprisingly, the study shows that the presence of these molecules does not necessarily indicate star formation in space.

„Thanks to the high-definition images of the web, we found many regions with smoke but no stars forming, and others with new stars forming but no smoke,” Professor Spilker adds.

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The discovery marks Webb's first detection of complex molecules in the early universe, opening up new possibilities for astronomers. Despite this groundbreaking discovery, Professor Spilker sees it as the beginning of the Web's potential.

„It's early days for the Webb telescope, so astronomers are excited to see all the new things it can do for us. Now that we've shown for the first time that it's possible, we're looking forward to understanding if it's true that where there's smoke there's fire. Because complex molecules like this haven't had time to form in the vacuum of space, galaxies „It's all fire and smoke. The only way to know for sure is to look at more galaxies, even more distant ones,” the researcher concludes.

The James Webb Space Telescope, launched on Christmas Day 2021, has a 6.5 meter primary mirror and will study every phase of the universe. As the largest optical telescope in space, it allows the Hubble Space Telescope to observe objects too old, distant or faint.

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Southwest News Service writer Jim Leffman contributed to this report.

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