Science

NASA’s James Webb Telescope reveals millions of galaxies

NASA's James Webb Telescope reveals millions of galaxies
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SMACS 0723 Red arcs in the image show light from galaxies in the very early Universe

There were ten times more galaxies like our own Milky Way in the early Universe than previously thought.

This cosmic insight comes from form one of the first studies from images taken by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope.

One of the authors, Prof. Christopher Conselice from the University of Manchester, UK, said that Webb could “zoom in on the early Universe”.

This led to insights into objects in space that “we knew existed but didn’t understand how and when they formed.”

Disk galaxies dominate the “galaxy population” today, the researcher explained.

“Our own galaxy is flat, Andromeda (our nearest neighbor, which is 2.5 million light-years from Earth) is flat.

“Three-quarters of the nearby galaxies are discs, but they were thought to have formed late in the evolution of the Universe,” he told BBC News.

That was before the James Webb Space Telescope gave astronomers a look so far into the past.

The study, which was published on a preprint server, meaning it has yet to be reviewed by other scientists in the field, used the first image released from the telescope.

This image shows a foreground galaxy cluster called SMACS 0723. The gravity of this large mass of objects has enhanced the light of background galaxies in the distant Universe, making them visible for the first time. Some of these galaxies only existed 600 million years after the Big Bang.

Carina Nebula

Webb takes incredible pictures: “This could be the most important telescope ever”

Webb, with his 21-foot-wide golden mirror and highly sensitive infrared instruments, is able to resolve and count their shapes.

“We knew we were going to see things that Hubble didn’t see. But in this case we see things differently,” said Prof. Conselice, who will present some of his discoveries on Saturday 23 July at the Bluedot Festival at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire.

The universe is about 13.8 billion years old, so the images the JWST captures are glimpses of the processes that formed stars and planets long before our own formed.

“These are the processes that we need to understand if we want to understand our origins,” said Prof. Conselice.

“This could be the most important telescope of all time,” he added. “At least since Galileo.”

James Webb is a joint effort by the American, European and Canadian space agencies, with NASA at the helm.

James Webb

James Webb

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