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James Webb telescope found carbon in a distant galaxy: this may change our perception of when life was created

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This proves that there is still much unknown in space. Source: Freepik

The James Webb Telescope has found a cloud of carbon, a crucial element in the creation of life, at the dawn of the Universe. It was spotted in a distant galaxy that appeared only 350 million years after the Big Bang.

This is the first time elements other than hydrogen have been detected in the universe, LiveScience reports. Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge Roberto Maiolino says that while previous studies suggested that carbon began to form a billion years after the Big Bang, it has now been found that it appeared much earlier and may be the oldest metal.

Astronomers consider all elements heavier than helium and hydrogen to be metals because they were "forged" in fiery furnaces of stars and spread through the universe through supernova explosions.

"We were surprised to see carbon in the Universe so early because it was thought that the earliest stars produced much more oxygen than carbon," Maiolino said. "We thought that carbon was enriched much later, through very different processes, but the fact that it appeared so early tells us that the very first stars may have worked very differently."

James Webb telescope found carbon in a distant galaxy: this may change our perception of when life was created

To make this discovery, astronomers used the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to study an ancient galaxy known as GS-z12. Thanks to the telescope's near-infrared spectrograph, scientists decomposed the early light of this galaxy into a spectrum of colors, allowing them to determine the chemical composition of the early Universe.

In the distant galaxy, which was 100,000 times smaller than the Milky Way, they found traces of oxygen and neon mixed with a strong carbon signal.

How carbon could have formed at such an early stage in the development of the Universe is not yet clear, but the researchers suggest that it could have been due to the collapse of stars with lower energy than previously expected. As carbon formed in the outer shells of stars, this could have allowed it to escape into space and seed the early Universe earlier than expected, instead of being swallowed up by the black holes that result from star collapse.

"These observations indicate that carbon may have accumulated rapidly in the early Universe," Francesco D'Eugenio, lead author of the study and an astrophysicist at the Kavli Institute for Cosmology, said, "And since carbon is the basic element for life as we know it, this does not necessarily mean that life must have evolved much later in the Universe. Life may have originated much earlier, although if life exists somewhere in the universe, it may have evolved quite differently than on Earth."

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