James Webb telescope detects the earliest strand in the 'cosmic web' ever seen

Crackles of orange streak across a purple background, representing tendrils of gas in the cosmic web that unites all galaxies
A model of the cosmic web, showing bright galaxies clustering where tendrils of gas meet. (Image credit: ESA/ Springel et al., Virgo Consortium)

On a clear night, it might look like the stars above are distributed more or less evenly. But that isn't the case — all stars are part of a gigantic cosmic web that links galaxies across the universe like threads of spider's silk, leaving unfathomably large swaths of nothingness in between. Now, in two papers published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters on June 29, scientists detail evidence that this massive cosmic highway stretches back nearly to the dawn of the universe. 

Using data from the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers discovered a massive, gassy tendril composed of 10 closely packed galaxies stretching over 3 million light-years. According to the researchers, this ancient filament of gas and stars may represent the oldest known thread of the cosmic web.

"I was surprised by how long and how narrow this filament is," Xiaohui Fan, an astronomer at the University of Arizona and a member of the research team, said in a statement. "I expected to find something, but I didn't expect such a long, distinctly thin structure."

Related: How dark is the cosmic web?

The newly discovered filament formed when the universe was young — a mere 830 million years after the Big Bang. It is anchored by an extremely bright celestial object with a supermassive black hole known as a quasar at its center. 

This bright black hole is the reason scientists discovered the tendril in the first place. Fan and his team are working as part of the ASPIRE (A Spectroscopic Survey of Biased Halos in the Reionization Era) project, which aims to study how the earliest black holes influenced galactic evolution. The quasar detected here was one of 25 early-universe quasars that the project has its sights set on. 

"This is one of the earliest filamentary structures that people have ever found associated with a distant quasar," Feige Wang, an astrophysicist at the University of Arizona and the program's principal investigator, said in the statement.

The researchers hypothesize that black holes helped to form the cosmic web by acting as gravity wells to draw matter together, and occasionally by flinging it far away on "cosmic winds," which whip up around extremely active quasars. Gravity keeps these strands of stars and dust connected, even as the winds pull them across the universe. 

The researchers think that eventually, the filament will condense into a cluster of galaxies, similar to the Coma Cluster, which lies approximately 330 million light-years from Earth. 

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  • rod
    Phys.org reported this find too. Webb identifies the earliest strands of the cosmic web, https://phys.org/news/2023-06-webb-earliest-strands-cosmic-web.html
    My notes. The rapid formation of SMBH in the early universe in BB cosmology is very difficult to explain. From the phys.org report, "To form these supermassive black holes in such a short time, two criteria must be satisfied. First, you need to start growing from a massive 'seed' black hole. Second, even if this seed starts with a mass equivalent to a thousand Suns, it still needs to accrete a million times more matter at the maximum possible rate for its entire lifetime," explained Wang. "These unprecedented observations are providing important clues about how black holes are assembled.” My note, it is apparent that SMBH so early in BB cosmology is an issue. Other models suggest 10,000 to 100,000 solar mass Population III stars as SMBH seeds. The gas seen in the quasar with redshift 6.61 still contains metals, not metal free or pristine gas created by BBN, when CMBR appears as light, cosmic dark ages, or the gas said to evolve into Population III stars. Another line of inquiry is how fast space expands for quasars with redshifts 6 or greater, this will always be faster than c velocity at the comoving radial distances (for z=1.4 or greater) in the calculations and the angular size distance computed mapping to 1 arcsecond scale, the kpc scale size seen compared to what could be expected.

    ref - A SPectroscopic Survey of Biased Halos in the Reionization Era (ASPIRE): JWST Reveals a Filamentary Structure around a z = 6.61 Quasar, https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2041-8213/accd6f, 29-June-2023. "Abstract We present the first results from the JWST program A SPectroscopic survey of biased halos In the Reionization Era (ASPIRE). This program represents an imaging and spectroscopic survey of 25 reionization-era quasars and their environments by utilizing the unprecedented capabilities of NIRCam Wide Field Slitless Spectroscopy (WFSS) mode..."
  • GeorgeMcLean
    Admin said:
    Astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope have discovered a clump of ancient galaxies that may be the oldest strand of the "cosmic web" ever detected.

    James Webb telescope detects the earliest strand in the 'cosmic web' ever seen : Read more
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    That's fascinating news! The discovery of a clump of ancient galaxies by astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope is indeed significant. The "cosmic web" refers to the large-scale structure of the universe, composed of interconnected filaments of dark matter and galaxies. Detecting an ancient strand of the cosmic web suggests that these galaxies are part of the early universe and provides insights into the formation and evolution of cosmic structures.

    The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is an advanced space observatory designed to study the universe in infrared light. With its enhanced capabilities compared to previous telescopes, JWST enables astronomers to observe distant and faint objects, such as these ancient galaxies, and unveil more about the early universe.

    Further analysis of this discovery will likely shed light on the processes that led to the formation of these galaxies and their role in shaping the cosmic web. Understanding the structure and evolution of the cosmic web is essential in expanding our knowledge of the universe's history and how galaxies and other cosmic structures have developed over time. TellHappyStar
    Thanks and regards,
  • rod
    Reference paper cited, https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2041-8213/accd6f
    “5. Summary In this work, we provide a brief overview of the JWST ASPIRE program, which will perform a legacy galaxy redshift survey in the fields of 25 reionization-era quasars using NIRCam/WFSS. From the early JWST observation of the field around the quasar J0305–3150, we discovered a filamentary structure traced by the quasar and 10 emitters at z = 6.6. This structure has a galaxy overdensity of …making it one of the most overdense structures found in the early universe. By comparing with cosmological simulations, we argue that this filamentary structure traces an early overdensity, which could eventually evolve into a massive galaxy cluster. We also found that the most massive SMBHs in cosmological simulations generally trace galaxy overdensities but with a large variance on the galaxy numbers. This suggests that deep observations of a large sample of quasars (e.g., the ASPIRE program) would be essential for a comprehensive understanding of the cosmic environment of the earliest SMBHs…”

    My note, the paper provides values for the BB cosmology used to explain the observations. “Throughout the paper, we adopt a flat ΛCDM cosmology with H0 = 70 km s^−1 Mpc^−1, ΩM = 0.3, and ΩΛ = 0.7.”

    Using Ned Wright calculator (https://lambda.gsfc.nasa.gov/toolbox/calculators.html), z=6.6 and H0 = 70 km/s/Mpc, light time distance from Earth 12.815 Gly. The comoving radial distance = 28.122 Gly where space expands 2.0132352E+00 or 2.013 x c velocity. Any evolution along the comoving radial distance for this object is not observable, so *could eventually evolve into a massive galaxy cluster* is something not observable when using the comoving radial distance from Earth as well as space in that location of the universe today, expanding more than 2x c velocity. The space.com report, https://www.space.com/james-webb-space-telescope-detects-earliest-cosmic-web-strand, stated this massive galaxy cluster evolution scenario based upon the filament seen.

    "The researchers think that eventually, the filament will condense into a cluster of galaxies, similar to the Coma Cluster, which lies approximately 330 million light-years from Earth.”

    I like to keep in mind that the quasar, and redshift reported for the filament is some 6.6 or 6.61 redshift while the Coma Cluster redshift 0.0231 reported, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coma_Cluster. When reading galaxy evolution reports like this and the cosmic web, I note we do not know if any evolution took place for the *filamentary structure* (or other gases or quasars) along the comoving radial distance from Earth, more than 28 billion light years away now according to the cosmology calculators using FLRW metric for expanding space.