The most exciting thing about science is when we find out we were wrong

The most exciting thing about science is when we find out we were wrong

Space is very hot right now. The unmanned Artemis I mission is on its way to lunar orbit, the first in a series of missions that plan to return humans to the moon by the end of the decade. A space walk in the The International Space Station fell this week, and it was broadcast live. we are stealing crap from asteroids to show that we can And our new friend, the James Webb Space Telescope, is doing its thing, quietly revising our entire understanding of how the universe works.

The JWST is floating a million miles from Earth and sending back images that make Hubble look like real shit. Understandably, the images of Webb that get the headlines are the hallucinatory ones—photos that are particularly beautiful, or magnificent, and inspire admiration. Webb is still taking many of these. But these more artistic images are, in a way, the PR telescope to justify their existence to the wider public. The real science takes place in the analysis of the less sexy data: things that aren’t even in the visible spectrum, or in the close analysis of relatively unspectacular photos. Yesterday’s big news comes from those everyday images.

Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, Tommaso Treu (UCLA); Image processing: Zolt G. Levay (STScI)

I realize that I risk underselling it, so: Of couse these images are spectacular, even if they are not Pillars of Creation. And what they show, which is what appears in Figure 2 at the bottom center, is a superlative of brain fusion. It is the GLASS-z12 galaxy, and it is believed to be 13.45 billion years old, or only 350 million years after the creation of the universe in the Big Bang. It’s the most distant starlight we’ve ever seen.

But it’s not the galaxy’s existence that has scientists so excited: We knew there were galaxies back then, and we knew the JWST’s superior images would reveal them. What was unexpected was how easy it was to find.

“Based on all the predictions, we thought we had to search a much larger volume of space to find these galaxies.” said Marco Castellano of the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome, which he directed one of two research papers published thursday a The Astrophysical Journal Letters. Scientists had a model, based on current knowledge, of how many of these bright, fully formed galaxies in the early days of the universe would be out there. This model predicted that finding them would require a slice of sky about 10 times larger than the one captured by Webb. Instead, Webb quickly polled two these galaxies, which scientists discovered just days after the data was released to study them.

What this implies is that our models were wrong and that bright, populated galaxies might have formed more quickly and more frequently after the end of the stellar dark age, about 100 million years after the Big Bang, when conditions of the early universe eventually allowed gravity to begin building. stars, than we had ever imagined.

We were wrong! How great! Learning that we were wrong is, like, the whole literal point of science! Knowing that our models and predictions were inaccurate allows us to make new ones to better explain the observations, bringing us closer and closer to being right. Science is iterative, and these small discoveries, rather than big splashy pictures, are how the JWST will help us write and rewrite the early history of our universe.

“These remarks just make your head explode,” said Paola Santini, a co-author of Castellano et al. paper “This is a whole new chapter in astronomy. It’s like an archaeological dig, and suddenly you come across a lost city or something you didn’t know about. It’s just amazing.”

These two new, young galaxies already provide some intriguing observations. That is, they are much brighter than we expected them to be, and brighter than anything else we have closer to Earth. “Its extreme brightness is a real puzzle,” said Pascal Oesch, co-author of the second paper published today. But there is an attractive possibility. It is hypothesized that in the very early universe, stars would have been composed of only hydrogen and helium, simply because they had not yet had time to produce heavier elements by nuclear fusion. These so-called population III stars would be incredibly hot and incredibly bright, and while they have long been theorized, they have never been observed. Until, maybe, now.

This is, in every way, hot shit. Thanks, Webb.

#exciting #science #find #wrong

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