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Webb Observes Galaxies That Shouldn’t Exist

Illustration of ancient massive galaxies. James Webb Illustration. YAYIMAGES.

Astronomers have observed massive galaxies in the early universe that technically, and based on everything we know about the universe, should not exist.

The James Webb space telescope continues providing valuable insight into the earliest phases of the universe, moments after the Big Bang. Essentially, astronomers are using the state-of-the-art space telescope to “look into the past” and observe the young moments of our cosmos. Its latest observations have revealed something surprising: the James Webb Space Telescope has observed ancient galaxies that are so massive they should not exist.

A series of mysterious objects

By using the space telescope, an international team of scientists has discovered a series of mysterious objects “hidden” within the images of the space telescope. Specifically, scientists say these are six potential galaxies that came into existence in the earliest phases of the universe. They are so massive they should not exist, according to our known cosmological models. The research paper detailing the discovery has been presented in the Journal Nature. So, what do we know about the mysterious galaxies?

At the dawn of the universe

Each one of the candidate galaxies likely existed at the dawn of the universe, some 500 to 700 million years after the creation of the universe, the Big Bang. This was some 13 billion years ago. Moreover, the galaxies are so massive and contain as many stars as our Milky Way Galaxy. Assistant Professor of Astrophysics at the University of Colorado Erica Nelson says the discovery is crazy. But what is so surprising? According to scientists, they didn’t expect the early universe to have been able to organize so quickly.

mages of six candidate massive galaxies, seen 500-700 million years after the Big Bang. Image Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, I. Labbe.

No time to form

As revealed by Assistant Professor Nelson, “these galaxies should not have had time to form.” Notably, these are not the first galaxies observed by the Space Telescope, which launched in December 2021. Webb is the most powerful space telescope ever launched into space. In 2022, scientists discovered four galaxies that are some of the earliest in the universe and are believed to have formed some 450 million years after the Big Bang. However, compared to the recently found galaxies, those were extremely small, containing fewer masses and stars.

We still need more data

Astronomers still need to gather more data to confirm that the structures they have found are galaxies as big as they appear and that they date back in time as far as it was claimed. However, initial observations offer evidence of how the state-of-the-art space telescope can rewrite cosmological models. The astronomers also warn that these objects could be strange cosmic structures, perhaps faint quasars, which would also be very interesting. The latest discoveries result from the space telescope’s CEERS (Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science) survey.

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