The Webb Space Telescope is equipped with extremely sensitive infrared sensing instruments, and its high resolution allows it to observe objects that are too old, distant or faint for the Hubble Space Telescope. Since the Big Bang, the universe has continued to expand, so the ultraviolet and visible light emitted by the first generation of stars and galaxies will also be stretched by the expansion of the universe in the process of propagating to us. So when this light reaches near-Earth space, what we see is infrared light.
Today, the infrared vision of the Webb Space Telescope has brought us a whole new picture of the universe, and has discovered some ancient galaxies that existed about 200 to 400 million years after the Big Bang. In a new study, the Webb Space Telescope even upended our understanding of galaxies: An international team discovered six ancient galaxies in the early universe that were much more massive than anyone thought !
In a paper published in “Nature”, the researchers introduced these six ancient galaxies that “should not have existed”. If the results are correct, either cosmological models need to be revised, or scientific understanding of galaxy formation in the early universe needs to be changed.
Using the first data set released by the Webb Space Telescope, the research team surveyed a region of the sky near the Big Dipper, a relatively “boring” region first observed by Hubble in the 1990s.
While studying an area roughly the size of a postage stamp, the team spotted some strange “fuzzy spots” that appeared unusually red and bright. In astronomy, red light can be understood as “old light” (in contrast, light closer to Earth is bluer).
The researchers calculated and modeled these lights. They found that each of the candidate galaxies existed at the dawn of the universe, roughly 500 to 700 million years after the Big Bang (or 13 billion years ago). These galaxies contain stars 10 billion times the mass of our sun, with one being 100 billion times more massive!
In the standard model of cosmology, matter in the universe is slowly clumped together, gradually merging from small structures into larger structures. Our Milky Way galaxy has evolved into what it is today through more than 13 billion years of development. But it’s hard to believe that these massive and bright galaxies contain almost as many stars as the modern Milky Way. The researchers dubbed them “cosmic busters” because there simply wasn’t enough time in the early universe to create as many stars as there were in the Milky Way.
Mistake or Subversion?
With such startling data, the researchers’ first thought was that they must have made a mistake, and they could just figure it out. But in the end, despite many attempts, they couldn’t find this supposed “bug”. One possible explanation is that there is some unknown way in the universe that can rapidly form these “monster” galaxies.
Six Ancient Galaxies That ‘Shouldn’t Have Existed’
But it should be noted that these are only the results of preliminary observations, so we cannot rule out other possibilities, such as that they are not actually galaxies but other celestial bodies. To know exactly what these distant objects are, astronomers need to use spectroscopy to confirm their true distances and masses.
In addition, spectroscopy can also tell us what produces the light, whether it is a star or something more exotic. For example, what appears to be light from stars is actually light from gas and dust gobbled up by supermassive black holes at the centers of galaxies.
With luck, in less than a year, the Webb Space Telescope will be able to reveal the final answer to the puzzle for us.