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Webb detects carbon in early galaxy, far earlier than expected

The uncertainty of science: Astronomers using the Webb Space Telescope have detected evidence of carbon in a galaxy estimated to exist only 350 million years after the Big Bang, much sooner than any theory had predicted such an element could have developed.

“We were surprised to see carbon so early in the universe, since it was thought that the earliest stars produced much more oxygen than carbon,” said Maiolino. “We had thought that carbon was enriched much later, through entirely different processes, but the fact that it appears so early tells us that the very first stars may have operated very differently.”

According to some models, when the earliest stars exploded as supernovas, they may have released less energy than initially expected. In this case, carbon, which was in the stars’ outer shell and less gravitationally bound than oxygen, could have escaped more easily and spread throughout the galaxy, while a large amount of oxygen fell back and collapsed into a black hole.

The paper is available here.

The scientists are struggling to explain this result in the context of the Big Bang theory itself, and have come up with scenarios where it will work. However, the fact that Webb has found another data point suggesting the early universe was more complicated than any model predicted increases the difficulty in producing Big Bang models that will work.

All in all, there remains great uncertainty here. This particular observation required 65 hours of observation time. Pulling real data from these very distant points of light remains quite challenging.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Rocket J Squirrel

    They will do their darndest to pound that data into the current model rather that admitting that that just maybe they need a new theory.

    It used to be that scientists had open minds and accepted new ideas.

  • Sailorcurt

    This is a basic problem I’ve had with scientists for quite some time: They develop an elegant theory, plug any holes in it with assumptions and made up entities (like, for example “dark matter” that conveniently can’t be detected) and then present their theories as if they were unassailable fact.

    The “accepted theory” for anything is still nothing more than a theory. Teaching it as if it were gospel directly from the hand of God is an egregious example of hubris and scientific malpractice.

  • Max

    Here’s another example of actual measurements being twisted to fit a model. (One we all observe and live in daily)
    10 years of collected data averaged in watts per meter squared and then displayed in the old tired discredited model which they refuse to give up even though there’s blaring inconsistencies that are impossible to reconcile with what’s plainly obvious.

    The first thing you notice is the earth is emitting/radiating more heat then is coming from the sun. (these measurements reflect only peak solar hours, not when the sun has gone down, and yet the earth continues to radiate heat all night)
    Second thing you notice is the heat attributed to the greenhouse effect is as great as the sun itself. Even though with 40 years of observation from satellites, no greenhouse event has ever been captured or measured. There has never been an instance where the upper atmosphere was warmer than the lower atmosphere despite 50 weather balloons twice a day are released trying to find it.
    How long will scientist twist the data to make it fit model that is obviously wrong? No wonder it took so long for people to believe that the earth was round despite this fact been established 200 years before Christ. Even Plato before that? Re-creating the shadow on the moon during a lunar eclipse hypothesized to his students that the earth was four times larger than the moon and was round….

    Chinook winds hold the Guinness book of world records for the highest amount of temperature change in the shortest time… And yet this glaring weather fact is not in any of the climate models because Scientist can’t explain it with the current theory. So they ignore the data. It’s like ignoring the woolly mammoth in the room.
    The ideal gas law‘s have been demonstrated creating heat with friction on every planet in our solar system with an atmosphere… (dry air loses 5.4°F temperature for every thousand feet you rise from the surface) And yet it is all ignored as not relevant. This is why we refer to climate science as a faith based religion.

  • Edward

    Rocket J Squirrel wrote: “They will do their darndest to pound that data into the current model rather that admitting that that just maybe they need a new theory. It used to be that scientists had open minds and accepted new ideas.

    Sailorcurt wrote: “The ‘accepted theory’ for anything is still nothing more than a theory. Teaching it as if it were gospel directly from the hand of God is an egregious example of hubris and scientific malpractice.

    “The love of theory is the root of all evil.” — William M. Briggs

    You both have valid points, but do either of you have better theories that don’t have holes in them — that explain what we observe? There are possibilities other than the Big Bang theory, but the Big Bang hypothesis has passed at least two tests to become a theory. Trying to rectify new observations into the existing theory is the correct first thing to do. If that does not work, then perhaps another look at alternate hypotheses is appropriate.

    Just because new information shows weaknesses in current theory does not negate the theory. Despite relativity, we still accept and teach gravity in classical (newtonian) physics classes. We use the classical equations and theories in important designs and in everyday use.

    However, I agree that the dark matter and dark energy hypotheses seem more like some sort of logic patches to explain observations that fail to fit with accepted physical sciences, but neither observed problem negates the Big Bang theory. They are a bit like aether, which was popular a century ago to explain electro-magnetic wave propagation. We don’t observe any of these three proposed phenomena, and aether died with the realization of quantum mechanics. I still want to know how dark matter would be distributed throughout or around a galaxy in order for it to allow for the observed motions.

    The universe is a strange and mysterious place, and skepticism is important, but we should not so easily throw out theories that have passed important tests in order to be promoted from hypotheses to theories.

  • As someone on this Forum says, I’ll just throw this in here:

    ‘UAH researcher shows, for the first time, gravity can exist without mass, mitigating the need for hypothetical dark matter’

    The URL’s for the links to the University page and the actual paper are massive, which is why I didn’t include them, but a search engine works fine.

    The proposition appears as a topological solution, and the author admits that it may be nothing more than a mathematical curiosity. Those familiar with the Celestial Spheres of antiquity will see similarities, but this has math! I agree with the author that any logically coherent alternative to Dark Matter is welcome. I’ve never liked the ‘Here Be Dragons’ cosmology. Descriptive math should be elegant; think Maxwell’s Equations.

  • TallDave

    Suspect that once the redshifts are adjusted by Buchert’s inhomogenous cosmologies, we’ll learn that high-redshift objects existed somewhat later than we currently calculate based on their redshifts (i.e. these are probably closer to a billion years in age, long enough to evolve structures and higher elements).

    It’s a little tricky since the light is traveling between two gravitationally-bound areas, but in the voids between us the light redshifts slightly faster than it does here (due to the slightly faster passage of time in the voids). This is just a complicated result of relativity, no new physics.

    By next year, Euclid should provide enough data to differentiate from LCDM.

  • Sailorcurt

    “You both have valid points, but do either of you have better theories that don’t have holes in them — that explain what we observe?”

    Of course not…I’m not a scientist, I’m just a technical trainer with an Associate’s Degree.

    But not having all the answers doesn’t preclude me from pointing out that scientists with multiple PhDs also don’t have all the answers, even if they try to imply they do.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t explore these theories or teach them as possibilities. My only problem is with the people who treat the theories as if they were absolute truth.

    And further additional theories, built upon unproven prior theories, being treated as though there were no doubts about their veracity.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “And further additional theories, built upon unproven prior theories, being treated as though there were no doubts about their veracity.

    You seem to be conflating theory and law of nature. In the scientific world, a theory is a hypothesis (an educated guess) that has passed some tests and has yet to be contradicted. We have come to realize that this is about as proved as any theory can get, because new information has come along, in the past few centuries, that have disproved several theories of the past. The flat Earth theory lasted a long time, because there was not enough contradicting data to disprove the Earth was flat. Christopher Columbus went on a journey to disprove the flat Earth theory.

    Many people today also conflate theory and hypothesis. Conspiracy theories are, at best, hypotheses, because evidence of a conspiracy makes it stop being called a theory.

    Theories do not always hold up, over time. Nobel Prizes in science have been given for theories that have fallen apart after the award was given. These things happen. However, science has to build upon past work, and building upon current theory is better than building upon hypotheses, wild guesses, or disproved theories (e.g. flat Earth).

    Teaching the Big Bang is far better than teaching flat Earth, because we now are confident that the Earth is not flat. Not teaching the Big Bang leaves students without knowledge of the current state of science, placing them into a lifelong state of scientific ignorance. It would be like not teaching an alternative to a flat Earth and allowing students to conclude that the Earth is flat, based upon the daily evidence of their own eyes. In the past two centuries, we have learned a great deal about the world around us that we previously had not seen or experienced as individuals or as a species.

    The good news is that critical thinkers, as you and I are, have the capacity to remain skeptical, and this is needed in science, too. This is why the past two centuries were possible; new phenomena were observed and skeptics tested them against what was then “known” about the world. This is still happening, and it is why astronomy books are obsolete by the time they come off the printing press.

    We hold confidence in our theories, because they are not yet contradicted. We teach these theories, because they provide the best answers, so far. If we were not confident in our theories, then we would have nothing to use to engineer the things and processes that we use every day. So far, Webb has only made us question some of the conclusions that we previously drew about the early universe, but it has not yet contradicted the Big Bang theory itself.

    As with the theory of gravity, the Big Bang may not be perfect, but it is the best we have, and it gets us through the day, so far. Dark energy may only be a figment derived from assumptions about our observations, but neither it nor dark matter negate the Big Bang theory, nor would a discovery that they are not real. However, they allow us to get through the day and to sleep at night. Tomorrow may bring a better answer, but today we rest assured that what we see of the universe largely makes sense with a minimal amount of magic.*

    The data we are getting from the Webb telescope may provide clarity for the Big Bang theory, or it may provide evidence of a different theory. It is why we spent such a huge amount of money on a telescope that should have cost us much less.
    * If we look at which slit the photon passes through in the double slit experiment, the photon stops acting as a wave and acts as a particle. What magic makes that happen? A better question is: why does the universe even care that we saw which slit?

    A river speeds up when it narrows, then slows again when it widens. The flow in a rocket engine speeds up as the nozzle narrows, but speeds up even more as the nozzle widens again! Its behavior is the opposite of the river’s. Why? My fluid flow professor merely said that unlike incompressible fluids (e.g. water), the mathematical sign for compressible fluids (gasses) changes (from + to -), but that does not explain why. It, too, looks like magic.

    DNA carries the instruction set for creating a creature. A gestating embryo divides into many cells, but how to they coordinate among themselves which become the right side and which the left, and which become the head and which the legs? Looks like magic.

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