James Webb Space Telescope spots Milky Way-like galaxies lurking in the early Universe

James Webb Space Telescope spots Milky Way-like galaxies lurking in the early Universe

James Webb Space Telescope spots Milky Way-like galaxies lurking in the early Universe

NASAs James Webb Space Telescope came up with the goods again. Images released by the space agency show some of the oldest bar systems ever discovered. The galaxies have so-called stellar bars — elongated bands of stars that extend from the centers of the galaxies to their outer disks, as seen in the Milky Way. Two of the six date from 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 imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope but the resolution was not high enough for astronomers to discern the 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.

Both barred galaxies date to about 11 billion years ago, making them older than previously discovered galaxies, and were found in data collected by Webb’s Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS).

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

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

“The bars barely visible in Hubble data just showed up in the JWST image, showing the tremendous power of JWST to see the underlying structure in galaxies.”

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

Finding blocked 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 early rods means that galaxy evolution models now have a new pathway through rods to accelerate the production of new stars in early epochs,” Jogee said.

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