NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope just spotted distant galaxies nearly as big as the Milky Way and full of mature red stars. The sophisticated space telescope captures this fascinating region of the Universe during its early observation campaign. Astronomers are struggling to understand the mystery surrounding this region of space as its existence still gives them a tough headache.
A new study released based on this Webb capture reveals that these galaxies are so distanced away that they just appear like tiny reddish dots to the Webb. Astronomers studied these lights and concluded that they were the real images of the Universe during its baby stage which is about 500,000 to 700,000 years after the Big Bang.
However, the physical looks of these distant galaxies appear mysterious to scientists. They seem to be too massive with much older stars in them. Galaxies found when the universe is still that young are not expected to be this huge with old stars in them. Hence, this fascinating scientific discovery is making researchers think otherwise about how the baby Universe appeared during its infancy and evolved.
The new findings are not matching with earlier observations of the Cosmos as revealed by the Hubble Space Telescope. Scientists are seriously thinking of how to resolve the existing conflict created by this latest Webb discovery.
What Scientists think about the Latest Webb Discovery of massive distant galaxies
Discoveries like this often raise more debates in the scientific community. However, scientists strongly agreed that there must be reasons behind the existence of such massive distant galaxies type in the early universe.
“We had specific expectations for the type of galaxies that live in the early universe: they are young and small,” Joel Leja, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and one of the authors of the study, told Space.com in an email. “Previous studies of the early universe with Hubble and other instruments tend to find small, blue, baby galaxies at early times: objects which have just recently formed out of the primordial cosmic soup and are themselves building their early stars and structures.”
Leja also went on to reveal that young stars are generally expected to shine bright blue. However, as the age of stars, they easily develop a redder glow as they burn out their fuel and cool down. Scientists that designed Webb never thought that the sophisticated space telescope will ever spot old red stars.
They did not even expect the telescope to discover galaxies bigger than a billion suns. However, the reddish dots shown in latest Webb’s deep fields seem to have been 50 times more massive than expected.
“The most massive galaxies in our sample are estimated to have masses [two to four times lower] than that of our own Milky Way,” Leja wrote. “This was astounding — we’re finding galaxy candidates as massive as our own galaxy when the universe was 3% of its current age.”
With this discovery, some scientists will be expecting astronomers to rewrite cosmology theories about how these galaxies emerged together so fast after the Big Bang. However, Leja said that scientists should conduct more studies to ensure that the odd red dots shown in the latest Webb data are not something else.
“For example, stars in the early universe might emit light in exotic ways due to their lack of heavy elements, and perhaps we’re not incorporating those in our models,” Leja wrote. “Or alternatively, perhaps our understanding of how stars form locally, e.g. how many stars form from gas as a function of the mass of the stars, is totally inapplicable in the early universe. These things would also be exciting to discover and would also overturn our understanding of star formation in the early universe — just in a very different way.”
How JWST Captured these Puzzling Galaxies
The Webb space telescope used its Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) to capture these galaxies as part of the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science (CEERS) program. After scientists studied the image, they realize that they need to conduct more observations on this region of space and understand the puzzling galaxies even better.
Hence, astronomers will soon be turning Webb’s mirrors again towards these galaxies to obtain light spectra of those distant dots. They expect the spectra to break down the observed light based on its wavelength composition and unveil the chemical and physical properties of its source.
“The most important thing is that spectra give very precise distances to these objects,” said Leja. “The “distance” and the “identity” of these objects are correlated: if we know the distance, we can pin down the identity, and vice versa. So, a spectrum will pretty immediately tell us if our hypotheses are correct.”
Keep in mind that the first images of the Webb were first released about six months ago and scientists are already thinking of rewriting some theories about the early universe. If Webb’s space telescope could make astronomers puzzle with its discoveries in less than a year, imagine what we will use the telescope to observe in the near future.
“We looked into the very early universe for the first time and had no idea what we were going to find,” Leja said in a Penn University statement. “It turns out we found something so unexpected it actually creates problems for science. It calls the whole picture of early galaxy formation into question.”
Astronomers later published this new study in the Journal Nature on Feb. 22.
These latest findings have shown that we still have a lot to learn about the early universe. We expect JWST to look deeper into the Cosmos and unlock more mysteries like this for mankind. What do you think about this puzzling discovery?