- NASA’s new space telescope has discovered six massive galaxies in the early universe
- The discovery upends what experts previously thought about the origin of galaxies
NASA’s new Super Space Telescope was created to look at the dawn of time and provide clues about how the universe exploded.
In less than a year, James Webb has already dazzled us with incredible images – but now it’s challenging our understanding of the origins of galaxies.
That’s because the $10 billion (£7.4 billion) observatory has discovered six massive galaxies in the early universe that shouldn’t actually exist.
“These objects are much bigger than anyone expected,” said Joel Leja, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State.
“We expected to find small, young, infant galaxies at this time, but we found mature galaxies in what was previously understood to be the dawn of the universe.”
The researchers say their new discovery ‘pushes the limits of our understanding of cosmology’ and suggests that galaxies grew faster than expected early in the universe’s history.
“We informally call these objects ‘universe breakers’ — and they’ve lived up to their name so far,” Leja said.
Instruments on the James Webb Telescope
NIRCam (near infrared camera) An infrared imager from the visible edge through the near infrared
NIRSpec (near infrared spectrum) also performs spectroscopy in the same wavelength range.
MIRI (Mid-InfraRed Instrument) measures the mid- to long-infrared wavelength range from 5 to 27 micrometers.
FGS/NIRISS (Fine Guidance Sensor and Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph), used to stabilize the observatory’s field of view during scientific observations.
The galaxies are so massive that they contradict 99 percent of models for cosmology, he said.
To account for the higher mass, these models would have to be modified or astronomers would have to change their fundamental understanding of how galaxies formed in the early universe.
That is, they began as small clouds of stars and dust and gradually grew larger over time.
Whichever way scientists go, it will require a fundamental rethinking of how the universe formed, Leja said.
“The revelation that massive galaxy formation began very early in the history of the Universe improves what many of us thought was settled science,” Leja said.
An international team of researchers ‘didn’t know what we were going to find’ when they looked at the first batch of data on the web from the early universe,’ he said.
‘We discovered something unexpected that really creates problems for science. This calls into question the whole picture of early galaxy formation,’ added Leja.
The The new findings show that six galaxies were as mature as our own Milky Way — the universe is just 3 percent of its current age — about 500-700 million years after the Big Bang.
The web is capable of looking back as far as 13.5 billion years – about two million years after the universe began. Infrared-sensing instruments can detect light emitted by very old stars and galaxies.
“This is our first look, so it’s important to keep an open mind about what we’re seeing,” Leja said.
‘Although the data suggests they are galaxies, I think there is a real possibility that some of these objects could become hidden supermassive black holes.
Regardless, the amount of mass we discovered is 100 times more than we previously thought was the known mass of stars during this period of our universe.
‘Even halving the sample, it’s still a stunning change.’
The study was carried out using Spectroscopic data and the first full-color images of the web were released by NASA in July last year.
‘Once we got the data, everyone started jumping in and these massive things came out really fast,’ Leja said.
‘We started modeling and trying to figure out what they were because they were so big and bright.
‘My first thought was that we’ve made a mistake, let’s figure it out and get on with our lives. But no matter how hard I tried, I still couldn’t find the mistake.’
Leja said it’s a way for astronomers to confirm his team’s findings To image the spectrum of massive galaxies.
This will provide data on the actual distances of galaxies and the gas and other elements they are made of, which in turn will allow experts to build a clearer picture of how big they really are.
“A spectrum will tell us immediately if these things are real or not,” Leja said.
‘It will show us how big they are and how far away they are. The funny thing is, we have all these things we want to learn from James Webb, and it’s nowhere near the top of the list.
‘We’ve discovered something we never thought we’d ask the universe – it happened faster than I thought, but here we are.’
The findings have been published in the journal Nature.
James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope designed to detect light from early stars and galaxies.
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a ‘time machine’ that will help unlock the secrets of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born at the beginning of the universe, 13.5 billion years ago, and observe the origins of stars, exoplanets, and the moons and planets of our solar system.
The operating temperature of the James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments is approximately 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).
It is the world’s largest and most powerful orbiting space telescope, capable of peering 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 prefers to think of James Webb as Hubble’s successor rather than a replacement, as the two will work together for some time.
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, aboard the space shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits the Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph (27,300kph) in a low-Earth orbit at an altitude of about 340 miles.