11 July 2024

A Thai astronomer is among a team of international astronomers who recently found a galaxy which is believed to be the oldest and farthest from Earth, about 13.5 billion light years away, according to the National Astronomical Research Institute of Thailand (NARIT).

Dr. Nicha Leethochawalit of NARIT joined the GLASS (Grism Lens-Amplified Survey from Space), a project which is a part of the Early Release Science program, using information released by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Dr. Nicha said that, before the launch of JWST last year, NASA offered opportunities for astronomers worldwide to propose what they would like the JWST to study either as Principle Investigator or Early Release Science, adding that she chose the latter.

She said that under the Early Release Science program, all the astronomers under involved will have access to information provided by JWST simultaneously.

She described the race, to be the first among astronomers to find the oldest and farthest galaxy and have their research work printed first, as intense, like the a treasure hunt, saying that there was another paper from a researcher at Harvard University which was published on the same day as hers.

Dr. Nicha disclosed that she was responsible for running the code to determine how far the oldest galaxy is away from Earth, using the technique called “redshift” (“z”).

What she found is a galaxy at redshift z=12.3, which is estimated to be about 13.5 billion light years from Earth.

About her decision to study astronomy, Dr. Nicha said she didn’t know whether the course she chose would be useful or not. After starting work, however, she said that she realised that she had made the right decision.

A native of Nakhon Pathom, while studying in senior high school at Mahidol Wittayanusorn in Nakhon Pathom, she received a scholarship from NARIT to study astronomical physics for her BA, MA and doctorate at the University of Chicago and the California Institute of Technology in the United States.