James Webb Space Telescope keeps surprising us.
A key advantage of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is its ability to peer deep into the past. By looking in the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, it's able to see light that has taken billions of years to reach us, stretched out by the expanding universe along its journey.
JWST's specialized eyes on the universe recently revealed yet another surprise —multiple galaxies that look like our Milky Way, but from between 8 and 11 billion years in the past when the universe was much younger.
New research described in a statement from UT Austin (opens in new tab) presents observations from the JWST Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (opens in new tab) showing galaxies with stellar bars, straight lines of stars stretching from galactic centers to their outer disks, at this time in the young universe. The discovery could "require scientists to refine their theories of galaxy evolution," according to the statement.
"I took one look at these data, and I said, 'We are dropping everything else!'" Shardha Jogee, an astronomer at UT Austin, said in the statement.
This is the first time stellar bars have been observed in such young galaxies, challenging existing models of how galaxies form and grow. They may also help astronomers answer existing questions about galaxies, such as how supermassive black holes in galactic centers grow and how galaxies get enough material to make stars in their centers, known as the supply chain problem.
"For this study, we are looking at a new regime where no one had used this kind of data or done this kind of quantitative analysis before," added lead author Yuchen Guo. "So everything is new. It's like going into a forest that nobody has ever gone into."
Jogee added that these stellar bars could "solve the supply chain problem in galaxies."
"Just like we need to bring raw material from the harbor to inland factories that make new products, a bar powerfully transports gas into the central region where the gas is rapidly converted into new stars at a rate typically 10 to 100 times faster than in the rest of the galaxy," Jogee explained.
This discovery is yet another testament to the extraordinary capabilities of NASA's new workhorse space telescope, and a step towards understanding how galaxies like our Milky Way came to be.
The research is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters (opens in new tab).