NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured an image of the most distant known star in the universe.
It was named Earndel, after a character in the prologue to JRR Tolkien’s “The Silmarillion,” about 28 billion light-years from Earth.
This is more than 10 billion light-years away from the most distant star astronomers have seen.
At such enormous distances, experts can usually only form entire galaxies, but a lucky coincidence allowed them to spot Erendale with the Hubble Space Telescope and then observe it again with Webb on July 30.
By comparing the Hubble image to the image captured by NASA’s new $10 billion (£7.4 billion) Super Space Telescope, experts were able to find the elusive Earndel as a faint red dot beneath a group of distant galaxies.
Far, far away: The most well-known star in the universe has been captured by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. Earndel is approximately 28 billion light-years away from Earth and is shown here in this image where the white arrow is
Circled: Experts have found Earndel as a faint red dot beneath a group of distant galaxies
‘We are excited to share the first JWST image of Earendel,’ said a group of astronomers using the Cosmic Spring JWST Twitter account.
What is a gravitational lens?
A gravitational reversal occurs when a massive galaxy or group of galaxies bends light emitted by a more distant galaxy.
This makes up a very enlarged image, although it is distorted a lot.
This is because massive objects bend spacetime around them, causing the light to travel in a different path.
This theory was first proposed by Einstein in his theory of general relativity.
The star, whose light took 12.9 billion light-years to reach Earth, is so faint that it would be hard to find without the help of Hubble – which imaged in Webb’s visible ultraviolet light compared to infrared light.
This example of two telescopes working side by side is exactly what NASA envisioned, though Webb was eventually considered the successor to the famous Hubble.
“We are excited to share the first JWST image of Earendel, the most distant known star in our world, with a magnified lens and magnified by a massive galaxy cluster,” a group of astronomers said using the Cosmic Spring JWST Twitter account.
Their tweet refers to a gravitational reversal, in which light is stretched into a long curve by the gravitational pull of a galaxy cluster closer to Earth.
This process inflated the Sunrise Arc galaxy where Earendel resides by a factor of over 1,000, allowing astronomers to confirm through Webb that it was an individual star and not a group of hundreds.
Experts said the star is visible because it is perfectly aligned with the galaxy cluster to provide the maximum possible magnification.
“This is a really lucky alignment,” Dan Koo, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, told New Scientist.
“No one has seen a star this big, let alone a galaxy.”
Because light takes time to travel, this new web image shows Earndel as it was about 900 million years after the Big Bang.
Tolkien’s character Earndale was the inspiration for the name Earndell, according to Brian Welch, a doctoral candidate who led a team of astronomers at Johns Hopkins University to discover the distant star.
“Once I was reasonably certain that this object was a star,” he said, “I began to brainstorm possible names.”
Eärendil was one of the first things that came to mind, as he ended up sailing his ship Vingilot across the sky with Silmaril on his forehead, becoming a star and a symbol of hope over Middle-earth.
“When I looked into it further, I found that Tolkien’s original inspiration for the character was an Old English word Earendel, meaning Morning Star.”
Welch added, “The ‘Morning Star’ signal worked especially well, because this is a period of time often referred to as Cosmic Dawn, so he struck that kind of deal for me.
At such enormous distances, experts can usually only form entire galaxies, but a lucky coincidence allowed them to observe Earndale with the Hubble Space Telescope (shown) and then observe it again with James Webb on July 30.
By comparing the Hubble image (pictured) to the one taken by Webb, experts were able to find the elusive Earndel as a small red dot beneath a group of distant galaxies.
JWST is designed to study the first stars. Until recently, we assumed this meant groups of stars within the first galaxies, astronomers from the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland wrote in a recent paper discussing gravitational lensing.
But in the past three years, three single, hyperlensed stars have been discovered.
This offers new hope for direct observation of individual stars at cosmic distances using JWST.
Astronomers hope the next round of Webb’s observations by the Space Telescope Science Institute team, scheduled for December, will reveal the components of the Earendel and Sunrise Arc.
“We’re all made of stars, but these things didn’t exist in the early universe,” Koo said.
“This is a rare opportunity to find out if heavy elements were present in this star 13 billion years ago.”
Because light takes time to travel, this new image by Webb (pictured) shows Earendel as it was about 900 million years after the Big Bang
Last month, Webb’s dazzling and unprecedented images of a “stellar nursery,” a dying star covered in dust and a “cosmic dance” among an array of galaxies were revealed to the world for the first time.
It put an end to months of frantic waiting and anticipation as the first batch of a treasure trove of images was addressed that would culminate in our first look at the dawn of the universe.
Webb’s infrared capabilities mean he can ‘see past time’ within only 100-200 million years from the Big Bang, allowing him to take pictures of the first stars to shine in the universe more than 13.5 billion years ago.
Her first images of nebulae, exoplanets and galactic clusters sparked huge celebration in the scientific world, on what was being hailed as a “Great Day for Humanity”.
Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the masses, ages, history and compositions of galaxies as Webb seeks to explore the oldest galaxies in the universe.
James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope built to detect light from the oldest stars and galaxies
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unlock the secrets of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look at the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, and observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The huge telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is considered a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have a temperature of about 40 K – about minus 387 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius).
It is the largest and most powerful orbiting space telescope in the world, capable of looking back 100-200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is designed to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, as the two will be working alongside each other for a while.
The Hubble Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits the Earth at about 17,000 miles per hour (27,300 kilometers per hour) in low Earth orbit at an altitude of about 340 miles.