At the beginning of the formation of the Universe, there were 10 times more galaxies similar to our Milky Way than previously thought. These are the findings of a group of scientists studying the first image taken by the James Webb space telescope.
One of the authors of the study of the image, Professor Christopher Conselis of the University of Manchester in the UK, explains that astronomers knew about the existence of these galaxies, but they did not have a clear understanding of how and when they formed.
“Today, the most common type of galaxies are disk galaxies,” the researcher explains in an interview with BBC News. “Our galaxy is disk, the closest to it, the Andromeda Galaxy, is also disk. Three-quarters of all neighboring galaxies are disk. And it was previously believed that they formed at the end of the evolution of the universe,” says Conselis.
But that was before astronomers were able to use the James Webb telescope to look into the distant past, at the time of the formation of the universe and galaxies.
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This telescope is capable of picking up signals from stars as far away as 13.5 billion light-years away. That is, it can potentially show the Universe as it looked just 200 million years after the Big Bang.
The study by Conselis and his colleagues is published on the website of Cornell University in the United States and has not yet gone through the process of peer review by other scientists.
It describes the first shot of “James Webb” in more detail.
In the foreground of the first image, the massive galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is visible as it appeared about 4.6 billion years ago. That’s about how long it took the light to travel from there to where it was picked up by the James Webb’s sensors.
But they are not of scientific interest, but the galaxies in the background of the image. Without “James Webb” they would remain invisible, but this telescope was able to capture how the gravity of the huge mass of the SMACS 0723 cluster enhances the glow of the rear galaxies.
Some of them existed only 600 million years after the Big Bang – that is, in the early years of the formation of the Universe.
Now a unique infrared observatory with a gold-plated mirror 6.5 meters in diameter has helped scientists see the outlines of these back galaxies and count them.
“We knew we could see things that Hubble couldn’t show us,” says Professor Conselis.
The universe is about 13.8 billion years old, and the photographs taken by James Webb capture glimpses of the formation of stars and planets long before the earth.
“These processes will help us understand our roots. This telescope is the most important invention since at least the time of Galileo,” said Professor Conselis.
The giant James Webb telescope was created by NASA with the participation of the European and Canadian space agencies and cost $10 billion. Its launch took place on December 25, 2021, and the first photo was released by Joe Biden in early July.