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James Webb Telescope reveals barred galaxies billions of years ago

Webb Space Telescope allows us to
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For the first time new pictures from the James Webb Space Telescope revealed galaxies with star bars at a time when the universe was a quarter of its current age.

Starbars are elongated features of stars that extend from the centers of galaxies into their outer disks. They direct gas to central regions and promote star formation.

In a press release, the University of Texas said the discovery of the barred galaxies will compel scientists to refine their theories of galaxy evolution, noting that the Hubble Space Telescope had never detected bars at such young epochs.

For example, while the galaxy EGS-23205 appears blurry in a Hubble image, Webb’s image is more clearly defined, showing a spiral galaxy with a clear star bar.

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JWST's ability to map galaxies at high resolution and longer infrared wavelengths than Hubble allows it to peer through dust and reveal the underlying structure and mass of distant galaxies.  This can be seen in these two images of galaxy EGS23205 as it appeared about 11 billion years ago.  In the HST image (left, taken with the near-infrared filter), the galaxy is little more than a disk-shaped blob obscured by dust and affected by the glare of young stars, but in the corresponding JWST mid-infrared image (taken last summer), it is a beautiful spiral galaxy with a clear star bar.

JWST’s ability to map galaxies at high resolution and longer infrared wavelengths than Hubble allows it to peer through dust and reveal the underlying structure and mass of distant galaxies. This can be seen in these two images of galaxy EGS23205 as it appeared about 11 billion years ago. In the HST image (left, taken with the near-infrared filter), the galaxy is little more than a disk-shaped blob obscured by dust and affected by the glare of young stars, but in the corresponding JWST mid-infrared image (taken last summer), it is a beautiful spiral galaxy with a clear star bar.
(Image credit: NASA/CEERS/University of Texas at Austin)

The James Webb Space Telescope has a larger mirror, allowing it to collect more light and see farther with higher resolution.

As observed longer infrared wavelengths than Hubbleit can also see through dust better.

“I looked at this data once and said, ‘We’re dropping everything else!'” said Shardha Jogee, a professor of astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin, in a statement sharing data from the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Described Survey (CEERS).

Dave Chaney, Ball Aerospace's senior optical test engineer, inspects six primary mirror segments, critical elements of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, prior to cryogenic testing at the X-ray & Cryo Facility at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Dave Chaney, Ball Aerospace’s senior optical test engineer, inspects six primary mirror segments, critical elements of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, prior to cryogenic testing at the X-ray & Cryo Facility at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
(Credit: NASA/MSFC/David Higginbotham)

Another barred galaxy, EGS-24268, also formed about 11 billion years ago – meaning that two barred galaxies exist further back in time than previously discovered.

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The international group of researchers highlighted these galaxies and showed examples of four others more than 8 billion years ago in an article in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

Montage of JWST images showing six exemplary barred galaxies, two of which represent the longest lookback times quantitatively identified and characterized to date.  The labels at the top left of each figure show each galaxy's backward time, ranging from 8.4 to 11 billion years (Gyr) ago, when the universe was only 40% to 20% of its current age.

Montage of JWST images showing six exemplary barred galaxies, two of which represent the longest lookback times quantitatively identified and characterized to date. The labels at the top left of each figure show each galaxy’s backward time, ranging from 8.4 to 11 billion years (Gyr) ago, when the universe was only 40% to 20% of its current age.
(Image credit: NASA/CEERS/University of Texas at Austin)

Two undergraduate students played key roles visually Checking hundreds of galaxies and searching for those that could be analyzed using a more rigorous mathematical approach.

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Bars also help in the formation of supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies, with the gas channeling part of the way.

The existence of these rods, the university said, challenges theoretical models and the team will test different models in additional work.

“This early bar discovery means that galaxy evolution models now have a new way across bars to accelerate the production of new stars in early epochs,” Jogee said.

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