When Did the First Stars and Galaxies Form?

Two independent analyses of the first deep field image from the James Webb Space Telescope report finding evidence for galaxies having formed in the early universe at redshifts (z) between 16.7 and 20, with the latter implying we are seeing the galaxy at a time just 180 million years after the Big Bang, far earlier than conventional models for star and structure formation in the early universe predict.

The research papers are:


We re-reduce and analyse the available James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) ERO and ERS NIRCam imaging (SMACS0723, GLASS, CEERS) in combination with the latest deep ground-based near-infrared imaging in the COSMOS field (provided by UltraVISTA DR5) to produce a new measurement of the evolving galaxy UV luminosity function (LF) over the redshift range z=8−15. This yields a new estimate of the evolution of UV luminosity density (ρUV), and hence cosmic star-formation rate density (ρSFR) out to within <300 Myr of the Big Bang. Our results confirm that the high-redshift LF is best described by a double power-law (rather than a Schechter) function, and that the LF and the resulting derived ρUV (and thus ρSFR), continues to decline gradually and steadily over this redshift range (as anticipated from previous studies which analysed the pre-existing data in a consistent manner). We provide details of the 55 high-redshift galaxy candidates, 44 of which are new, that have enabled this new analysis. Our sample contains 6 galaxies at z≥12, one of which appears to set a new redshift record as an apparently robust galaxy candidate at z≃16.7, the properties of which we therefore consider in detail. The advances presented here emphasize the importance of achieving high dynamic range in studies of early galaxy evolution, and re-affirm the enormous potential of forthcoming larger JWST programmes to transform our understanding of the young Universe.


On July 13, 2022, NASA released to the whole world the data obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Early Release Observations (ERO). These are the first set of science-grade data from this long-awaited facility, marking the beginning of a new era in astronomy. Many critical questions unanswered in the past several decades now see the hope of being addressed. JWST will push the redshift boundary far beyond what has been reached by the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), and in so doing it will lead to the understanding of how the first luminous objects - first stars and first galaxies - were formed in the early universe. The red wavelength cut-off at 1.6 micron limits HST to redshift around 11, which is when the age of the universe was only ~420 million years. The NIRCam instrument, the most sensitive camera onboard JWST, extends to 5 micron and will allow for the detection of early objects only several tens of million years after the Big Bang should they exist. Among the JWST ERO targets there is a nearby galaxy cluster SMACS 0723-73, which is a massive cluster and has been long recognized as a good “cosmic telescope” to amplify the background, far-away galaxies through its gravitational lensing effect. The NIRCam field-of-view is large enough that the ERO observations have covered not only the cluster but also a flanking field not boosted by gravitational lensing. JWST is so sensitive that the flanking field also sees far beyond HST. Here we report the result from our search of candidate galaxies at redshift larger than 11 using these ERO data. We have a total of 88 such candidates spreading over the two fields, some of which could be at redshifts as high as 20. Neither the high number of such objects found nor the high redshifts they reside at are expected from the previously favored predictions.


This implies that either there is something missing from the current cosmological models or that there is something missing from the current interpretation of the observed data. What an exciting time to be alive!

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