The Webb Telescope discovers the amazingly large galaxies of the early universe

(CNN) — Astronomers used the James Webb Space Telescope to peer into the early days of the universe, and they discovered something unexpected.

The space observatory has discovered six massive galaxies dating back between 500 and 700 million years after the Big Bang that created the universe. That’s according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Education NatureThe discovery completely contradicts existing theories about the origin of galaxies.

“These objects are much larger than anyone expected,” said Joel Leja, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Pennsylvania State University and study co-author. We’ve found that to be just as mature.”

The telescope observes the universe in infrared light, invisible to the naked eye, and is capable of detecting the faint glow of ancient stars and galaxies. By peering into the distant universe, the observatory can look back as far as 13.5 billion years ago (scientists have determined that the universe is about 13.7 billion years old).

“The revelation that the formation of giant galaxies is early in the history of the universe upends what many of us believe is established science,” says Leja. “We informally call these objects ‘universe breakers,’ and so far they have lived up to their name.”

The galaxies are so massive that they conflict with 99% of models representing the earliest galaxies in the universe, meaning scientists must rethink how galaxies formed and evolved. Current theory suggests that galaxies began as small clouds of stars and dust that grew larger over time.

Webb took pictures of six large constellations. One of them (bottom left) may have as many stars as our Milky Way, but is 30 times more compact. Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA/I. Laboratory

“We searched for the first time in the early universe, and we didn’t know what we were going to find,” Leja said. “We found something unexpected that really creates problems for science. It calls into question the whole picture of the formation of the first galaxies.”

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A survey of the first galaxies

Lieja and his colleagues began analyzing the web data after the telescope’s first high-resolution images were released in July. The galaxies appeared as great points of light, and the group marveled at them; They thought they had made a mistake in interpreting the data.

Journey into the universe like never before, with the best images of 2022 from the James Webb Telescope

“Once we got the data, everyone started investigating, and these massive things appeared very quickly,” Leja said. “We started modeling, trying to figure out what they were because they were so big and shiny.

My first thought was that we had made a mistake and we should figure it out and move on with life. But still can’t find that error after multiple attempts.”

One way to determine why galaxies grew so quickly is to take a spectral image of the galaxies, which involves splitting the light into different wavelengths to define the various elements, as well as determining the actual distance of the galaxies, Leja said. Spectroscopic data will provide a detailed view of galaxies and their impressive size.

“A spectrum will tell us immediately if these things are real or not,” Leja said. “It’s going to show us its size and its distance. The funny thing is, we have all these things we want to learn from James Webb, and it’s not at the top of the list. We’ve discovered something we never thought we’d hear. About the universe, it happened a lot faster than I thought, but here we are. .”

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Galaxies identified with the web’s data may actually be something else entirely.

“This is our first look so far, so it’s important to keep an open mind about what we see,” Leja said. “Although the data indicates that these are probably galaxies, I think there is a real possibility that some of these objects are hidden supermassive black holes. In any case, the amount of mass we have found means that the known mass of stars at this time in our universe is 100 times larger than we previously thought. Even halving the sample, it A more startling change.”

Misty Tate

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