James Webb telescope spots 6 monster galaxies harbouring tens to hundreds of billions of sun-sized stars’ mass: Study

These galaxies challenge our current understanding of galaxy formation as they are too hefty for their age
Tens to hundreds of billions of sun-sized stars’ worth of mass is formed in only five per cent of the time. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, I Labbe (Swinburne University of Technology). Image processing: G Brammer (Niels Bohr Institute’s Cosmic Dawn Center at the University of Copenhagen).
Tens to hundreds of billions of sun-sized stars’ worth of mass is formed in only five per cent of the time. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, I Labbe (Swinburne University of Technology). Image processing: G Brammer (Niels Bohr Institute’s Cosmic Dawn Center at the University of Copenhagen).

James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has discovered six extraordinarily massive first-generation galaxies, formed roughly 500-700 million years after the Big Bang, according to a new study.

These galaxies challenge our current understanding of galaxy formation as they should not have existed so early in their life, stated a study published in the journal Nature February 22, 2023.

Tens to hundreds of billions of sun-sized stars’ worth of mass is formed in only five per cent of the time, the findings showed.

“These objects are really extraordinary,” Ivo Labbé of the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia and the study’s author told Down To Earth.

Labbé finds the shapes of these galaxies weird. He said despite having the same mass as the Milky Way, one of the galaxies is 30 times smaller.

The team spotted the six monster galaxies using the Cosmic Evolution Early 44 Release Science programme of JWST. The programme studies the formation of the earliest galaxies when the universe was less than five per cent of its current age.

Researchers turned the telescope to a patch of the sky close to the Big Dipper, which appears to harbour a group of stars that form a pattern in the night sky. Hubble space telescope first observed this region in the 1990s.

“The galaxies are in the same area in the sky but are not close to each other in three-dimensional space. Some are much further away than others,” Labbé said.

The stars appeared as bright and red “fuzzy dots”. Red light typically means it is old. 

The universe is expanding. As most other galaxies move away from us, their light has shifted to longer, which means redder wavelengths, according to European Space Agency.

The team analysed these images further and found stellar masses greater than 10 billion solar masses, including one with a stellar mass of roughly 100 billion solar masses. One solar mass is the mass of our Sun.

“The Milky Way forms about one-two new stars every year,” Erica Nelson, co-author of the research and assistant professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado Boulder, said in a statement.

Some of these galaxies would have to be forming hundreds of new stars a year for the entire history of the universe, she added.

The findings are based on preliminary observations. The researchers said they need more data to confirm if the new galaxies are as old and massive as they seem.

Alternatively, the light could be coming from faint quasars, which are short for quasi-stellar radio sources, according to Nelson.

A quasar is an intense beacon of light coming from the centre of some galaxies and is powered by supermassive black holes, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

If these galaxies are as massive as they appear, a different formation channel could have created these monster galaxies very quickly and efficiently, Labbé explained.

“To form the number of stars in these galaxies, you need almost all available gas and convert it into stars at nearly 100 per cent efficiency,” the expert said, quoting a well-tested cosmological theory.

The researchers plan to split the light of each of these galaxies into its rainbow-like fingerprint using spectroscopy.

“This will tell us the distance with 0.1 per cent accuracy. It will also tell us what is producing the light, whether it is stars or something more exotic,” Labbé noted.

Read more:

Related Stories

No stories found.
Down To Earth
www.downtoearth.org.in