James Webb Space Telescope spots huge galaxies that 'should not exist'

They should not have had time to form, says astrophysicist

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Six huge galaxies so massive that scientists say they should not be able to exist have been spotted by Nasa's James Webb Space Telescope.

An international team of astrophysicists discovered the mysterious objects during a study at the University of Colorado Boulder in America.

Each may have existed at the dawn of the universe more than 13 billion years ago, about 500 to 700 million years after the Big Bang, the team found.

They contain almost as many stars as the Milky Way.

“It’s bananas,” said Erica Nelson, co-author of the research and an assistant professor of astrophysics at the university.

“You just don’t expect the early universe to be able to organise itself that quickly. These galaxies should not have had time to form.”

The findings were published in the journal Nature on February 22.

The James Webb Space Telescope, launched in December 2021, is the most powerful ever sent into space.

Its latest finds are not the earliest galaxies that have been observed.

In 2022, a team spotted four galaxies they said formed from gas about 350 million years after the Big Bang.

Those objects were tiny compared with the new galaxies.

Ms Nelson said it was possible the galaxies are “a different kind of weird object, such as faint quasars, which would be just as interesting”.

Nasa releases new batch of James Webb Telescope images

Nasa releases new batch of James Webb Telescope images

Ms Nelson and her colleagues from the US, Australia, Denmark and Spain formed a team to investigate data sent back to Earth by the telescope.

She was looking at a postage stamp-sized section of one image when she spotted “fuzzy dots” of light that she said looked too bright to be real.

“They were so red and so bright,” she said. “We weren’t expecting to see them.”

The team discovered that the old galaxies contained tens to hundreds of billions of sun-sized stars' worth of mass, similar to Earth’s own Milky Way galaxy, though the galaxies probably had little in common.

“The Milky Way forms about one to two new stars every year,” Ms Nelson said. “Some of these galaxies would have to be forming hundreds of new stars a year for the entire history of the universe.”

Calculations suggest there should not have been enough normal matter to form so many stars so quickly at the time.

“If even one of these galaxies is real, it will push against the limits of our understanding of cosmology,” she said.

What is the James Webb Space Telescope?

The James Webb Space Telescope is the largest optical telescope in space, equipped with high-resolution and high-sensitivity instruments to conduct infrared astronomy, allowing objects that were previously too old or far away to be seen.

Among its discoveries, an image beamed back to Earth from the telescope in January 2022 offered clues on how the first stars were born.

Astronomers believe the image shows a young cluster of stars more than 200,000 light years from Earth, in a dwarf galaxy called the Small Magellanic Cloud, could help shed light on how the first stars formed during the “cosmic noon” period, about two or three billion years after the Big Bang.

That same month, it found an Earth-like exoplanet outside the solar system. The planet, called LHS 475 b, is almost exactly the same size as the Earth.

Updated: February 23, 2023, 6:09 AM