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Webb reveals the secrets of one of the most distant galaxies ever seen

Looking deep into space and time, two teams using NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope studied the exceptionally luminous galaxy GN-z11, which existed when our 13.8 billion-year-old universe had only about 430 million years ago.

Initially detected Using NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, this galaxy – one of the youngest and most distant ever observed – is so bright that it’s hard for scientists to understand why. Now, the GN-z11 reveals some of its secrets.

Vigorous black hole is the most distant ever discovered

A team studying GN-z11 with Webb has found the first clear evidence that the galaxy hosts a supermassive central black hole that is rapidly accumulating matter. Their discovery makes it the most distant active supermassive black hole spotted to date.

“We discovered an extremely dense gas, common near supermassive black holes, which accumulates gas,” explained lead researcher Roberto Maiolino of the Cavendish Laboratory and the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. United. “These are the first clear signatures indicating that GN-z11 hosts a black hole that is gobbling up matter.”

Using Webb, the team also found indications of ionized chemical elements typically seen near accreting supermassive black holes. In addition, they discovered a very powerful wind expelled from the galaxy. Such high-speed winds are typically driven by processes associated with vigorous accretion of supermassive black holes.

“Webb’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) revealed an extended component, tracing the host galaxy, and a compact central source whose colors are consistent with those of an accretion disk surrounding a black hole,” said l investigator Hannah Übler, also from the study. Cavendish Laboratory and Kavli Institute.

Together, this evidence shows that GN-z11 hosts a 2 million solar mass supermassive black hole in a very active matter-consuming phase, which is why it is so luminous.

A cluster of pristine gas in GN-z11’s Halo intrigues researchers

A second team, also led by Maiolino, used Webb’s NIRSpec (near infrared spectrograph) to find a helium gas cluster in the halo surrounding GN-z11.

“The fact that we don’t see anything other than helium suggests that this cluster must be relatively intact,” Maiolino said. “This is something that theory and simulations have expected near particularly massive galaxies from these epochs: there should be pockets of pristine gas surviving in the halo, and these could collapse and form population III star cluster.”

The discovery of never-before-seen Population III stars – the first generation of stars formed almost entirely of hydrogen and helium – is one of the most important goals of modern astrophysics. These stars should be very massive, very luminous and very hot. Their expected signature is the presence of ionized helium and the absence of chemical elements heavier than helium.

The formation of the first stars and galaxies marks a fundamental change in cosmic history, during which the universe evolved from a dark and relatively simple state to the highly structured and complex environment we know today.

In future Webb observations, Maiolino, Übler and their team will explore GN-z11 in more depth and hope to strengthen the case for Population III stars that could form in its halo.

THE research on the pristine gas cluster in the halo of GN-z11 has been accepted for publication by Astronomy & Astrophysics. The results of the study of the black hole GN-z11 were published in the journal Nature on January 17, 2024. The data was obtained as part of the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic survey (JADES), a joint project between the NIRCam and NIRSpec teams.

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The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s first space science observatory. Webb solves the mysteries of our solar system, looks beyond distant worlds around other stars, and probes the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Media contacts:
Ann Jenkins/Christine Pulliam
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland.
(email protected) / (email protected)

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