James Webb Space Telescope Spots Milky Way-Like Galaxies Hiding in the Early Universe

James Webb Space Telescope Spots Milky Way-Like Galaxies Hiding in the Early Universe

from NASA James Webb Space Telescope has come out again with the goods. Images released by the space agency show some of the the oldest barred galaxies ever discovered. Galaxies have so-called stellar bars: elongated bands of stars that extend from the center of galaxies to their outer disks like those seen in the Milky Way. Two of the six date back to a time when the Universe was only 3.4 billion years old, a quarter of its current age.

One of the galaxies, EGS-23305, was previously photographed by the Hubble Space Telescope but the resolution was not high enough for astronomers to make out its spiral shape and prominent star bar. These fine details are clearly visible in the higher resolution image produced by Webb. The structure of a second galaxy, EGS-24268, is also clearly visible.

The two barred galaxies date back to about 11 billion years ago, making them older than any previously discovered, and were found in the data collected by Webb. Early Release Scientific Survey of Cosmic Evolution (CEERS).

Four other barred galaxies from more than 8 billion years ago were also found in the data.

“I took one look at this data and said, ‘We’re leaving everything else out!'” said the study’s co-author. Prof. Shardha Joeefrom the University of Texas at Austin.

“The nearly visible bars in the Hubble data have just come out in the JWST image, showing the enormous power of JWST to see the underlying structure in galaxies.”

Stellar bars play a central role in the evolution of galaxies by transporting gas from the outer regions to the center. This gas then rapidly turns into new stars at a rate 10 to 100 times faster than in the rest of the galaxy. It can also help fuel the growth of supermassive black holes found at the centers of galaxies.

Finding barred galaxies so early in the Universe also raises questions about current theories of galaxy evolution. The team now plans to test different models of galactic evolution to explain their new findings.

“This discovery of the first bars means that galaxy evolution models now have a new path through bars to accelerate the production of new stars at early ages,” said Jogee.

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