Oldest Supernova Ever Detected by Webb Telescope

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), designed as a successor to the Hubble Telescope, has shown its unique capabilities by revealing ten times more supernovae in the early universe than previously known. This discovery was made possible by JWST’s advanced infrared technology, which enables it to observe ultra-faint celestial objects that existed shortly after the universe’s inception.

The discovery was a part of the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) program. This program focuses on observing vast fields of ancient galaxies. The expanding universe causes light to stretch into longer wavelengths, a phenomenon known as “redshift”. This redshift is extreme for the oldest and most distant celestial objects, indicating their existence when the universe was no more than 3.3 billion years old.

The process of identifying these objects was complex, requiring two observational campaigns separated by a year. This allowed researchers to identify objects that varied in brightness, which are mainly supernovae that behave like the exploding stars we see in the modern universe.

Christa DeCoursey, a graduate student from the University of Arizona, stated that “Webb is a supernova discovery machine”. About 80 new supernovae are visible in the image provided by the study team, including the oldest known supernova, which is estimated to have formed from a star that exploded just 1.8 billion years after the Big Bang.

The newly identified stellar explosions include Type Ia supernovae, which are of significant interest due to their predictable brightness levels. This allows them to be used as a standard measure for cosmic distances. The team identified at least one Type Ia supernova that exploded when the universe was 2.3 billion years old, breaking the previous record for a Type Ia by 1.1 billion years.

The study also suggests that the standard candle of Type Ia supernovae does not change with extreme redshift, indicating the consistency of these celestial objects over vast cosmic distances and time scales.

As the JWST continues to observe the faintest objects in the universe, researchers believe it will reveal more about the universe’s early era. According to JADES team member Eiichi Egami, these findings are just the beginning of more extensive surveys of supernovae with the JWST. NASA estimates that the Webb Space Telescope has around 20 years of operational life. This gives ample time for the telescope to contribute significantly to our understanding of the universe’s history and evolution.

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