Webb Telescope Uncovers Ancient Supernovae in Early Universe

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By Lydia Amazouz Published on June 11, 2024 14:00
Webb Telescope Uncovers Ancient Supernovae In Early Universe

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has enabled astronomers to discover supernovae from the early Universe, providing a new window into the cosmos's formative years.

These discoveries were made as part of the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) program, which has already identified the most distant galaxy ever observed, JADES-GS-z14-0. The findings were announced during a press conference at the 244th meeting of the American Astronomical Society in Madison, Wisconsin.

Discovering Ancient Stellar Explosions

The JWST's powerful capabilities allowed scientists to detect approximately 80 objects that changed brightness over time, most of which were identified as supernovae.

These stellar explosions occur when massive stars reach the end of their life cycles. The data, collected over a year and compared with older observations, revealed a significantly higher number of supernovae in the early Universe than previously known. "Webb is a supernova discovery machine," said Christa DeCoursey, a graduate student at the University of Arizona. "The sheer number of detections plus the great distances to these supernovae are the two most exciting outcomes from our survey."

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Significance of Webb's Discoveries

Before the JWST, only a few supernovae were known to exist above a redshift of 2, which corresponds to when the Universe was just 3.3 billion years old.

The new JADES sample contains many supernovae that exploded when the Universe was less than 2 billion years old, including the farthest ever spectroscopically confirmed supernova at a redshift of 3.6.

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This means the star exploded when the Universe was only 1.8 billion years old. "This is really our first sample of what the high-redshift universe looks like for transient science," said Justin Pierel, a NASA Einstein Fellow at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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Images Showing Three Of 80 Transients (objects Of Changing Brightness) Identified By The Jades (jwst Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey) Program.

The findings suggest that these early supernovae could be fundamentally different from those we observe in the nearby Universe, offering insights into the nature of the early cosmos.

The ability to detect such distant supernovae has profound implications for our understanding of the Universe’s history. The JWST's observations show that supernovae were more common in the early Universe than previously thought.

This increased frequency of supernovae suggests that the early Universe was a more dynamic and violent place, with frequent stellar explosions playing a crucial role in the evolution of galaxies. These supernovae would have injected heavy elements into the surrounding space, contributing to the formation of new stars and planets.

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The discovery of supernovae at such high redshifts also challenges our understanding of the timing and processes involved in star formation. The presence of these supernovae indicates that massive stars were forming and dying very early in the Universe’s history, much earlier than some models had predicted. This finding helps astronomers refine their models of star formation and the lifecycle of stars in the early Universe.

Moreover, some of the newly discovered supernovae are Type Ia supernovae, which serve as "standard candles" for measuring vast distances across the cosmos. These supernovae always burn with the same brightness, allowing astronomers to calculate distances by comparing their apparent and actual brightness.

The team found at least one Type Ia supernova at a redshift of 2.9, meaning it exploded when the Universe was 2.3 billion years old.

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Type 1a Supernova

This discovery surpasses the previous record of a spectroscopically confirmed Type Ia supernova at a redshift of 1.95. "We’re essentially opening a new window on the transient universe," said STScI Fellow Matthew Siebert. "Historically, whenever we've done that, we've found extremely exciting things — things that we didn't expect."

The identification of these distant supernovae provides critical data for measuring the expansion rate of the Universe. By studying the light from these supernovae, astronomers can gain insights into how fast the Universe has been expanding over time.

This information is vital for understanding the nature of dark energy, the mysterious force driving the accelerated expansion of the Universe. The JWST's ability to observe these supernovae at such great distances allows scientists to trace the expansion history of the Universe further back in time than ever before.

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Understanding the Universe's Expansion

One of the significant outcomes of the survey is the identification of Type Ia supernovae, which serve as "standard candles" for measuring vast distances across the cosmos. These supernovae always burn with the same brightness, allowing astronomers to calculate distances by comparing their apparent and actual brightness.

The team found at least one Type Ia supernova at a redshift of 2.9, meaning it exploded when the Universe was 2.3 billion years old. This discovery surpasses the previous record of a spectroscopically confirmed Type Ia supernova at a redshift of 1.95. "We’re essentially opening a new window on the transient universe," said STScI Fellow Matthew Siebert. "Historically, whenever we've done that, we've found extremely exciting things — things that we didn't expect."

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