A surprising discovery!
New research published upends conventional theories about how galaxies like our own Milky Way formed and proliferated in the early universe.
An international team, including researchers from The University of Manchester and the University of Victoria in Canada, utilized the powerful James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to make an astonishing discovery: galaxies similar to the Milky Way are not as rare as previously believed.
Surprisingly, many of these Milky Way–like galaxies have been around for over 10 billion years, tracing far back into the universe’s history.
The Nature of Disk Galaxies
The Milky Way, a textbook example of a disk galaxy, resembles a pancake or compact disk in shape and rotates around its center. Disk galaxies are thought to be prevalent in the nearby universe and could be conducive to life because of their formation history.
Traditionally, astronomers thought that these fragile, disk-shaped galaxies would have been destroyed in the early universe, given the frequent galaxy mergers at that time.
However, today’s groundbreaking study in The Astrophysical Journal reveals that these types of galaxies are actually ten times more abundant than what had been estimated from prior observations using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Christopher Conselice, a professor at The University of Manchester, remarked, “Earlier, with Hubble’s data, we assumed that disk galaxies like the Milky Way only began appearing when the universe was around 6 billion years old. The new findings from JWST extend that timeline nearly to the universe’s dawn.”
Reconsidering Cosmic Evolution
The new evidence requires a total rethink of existing theories about cosmic evolution. “For decades, we believed these types of galaxies were uncommon in the young universe because of frequent, destructive galactic encounters,” said lead author Leonardo Ferreira from the University of Victoria.
Thanks to JWST’s unparalleled capabilities, astronomers can now see galaxies in their true form for the first time. The findings suggest that cosmic “structure” occurs much faster than previously thought.
“These discoveries tell us that most stars exist in disk galaxies like the Milky Way. This alters our fundamental understanding of galactic formation and prompts questions about dark matter in the early universe,” Conselice added.
Ferreira concluded, “Given our results, we must reevaluate our understanding of how the first galaxies formed and how they evolved over the past 10 billion years.”
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