James Webb finds the most distant organic molecules in the Universe

Using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers discovered complex organic molecules in a galaxy that existed just 1.5 billion years after the Big Bang. This is stated in an article published in the journal Nature.

Galaxy SPT0418-47 (orange ring around the foreground galaxy in the center of the frame). Source: J. Spilker / S. Doyle, NASA, ESA, CSA

The discovery was made during the study of the galaxy SPT0418-47. It is so far away that we see it as it was 12 billion years ago. Under normal circumstances, even JWST with its powerful eyesight wouldn’t be able to see it. Fortunately, astronomers came to the aid of a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.

The effect of gravitational lensing occurs when a very massive object is located on the line between a celestial body and the Earth. Its gravity can act as a lens, amplifying the light of a more distant body.

The principle of gravitational lensing. Source: S. Doyle / J. Spilker

In this case, the foreground galaxy, located 3 billion light-years from Earth, acted as such a lens. In the picture published by the researchers, it is visible as a blue object in the center of the frame. SPT0418-47 also corresponds to the orange ring surrounding it (this effect is explained by the curvature of the direction of movement of light rays).

The gravitational lens increased the brightness of SPT0418-47 by 30-35 times, enabling JWST to carry out its spectrographic measurements. In their course, astronomers discovered polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons inside the galaxy. They are considered one of the basic building blocks of life.

According to the researchers, in general, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are quite common in space, but they have never been found at such an early stage of the existence of the Universe. In addition, during the observations of SPT0418-47, JWST found traces of a number of heavy elements in the gas filling it. Apparently, they got there after the death of the stars of the first generation. All this suggested that the key conditions for the formation of life began to take shape already at the dawn of the existence of the Universe.

Earlier we talked about a colorful photo of the galaxy NGC 5068 taken by JWST.

According to https://phys.org

Follow us on Twitter to get the most interesting space news in time