Click for full image.
New data from the Webb Space Telescope and presented this week at an astronomy conference has found that galaxies in the early universe exhibit much of the same range of shapes and morphologies seen in the recent universe, a result that was not expected.
The image to the right comes from the press release. You can read the research paper here [pdf].
The study examined 850 galaxies at redshifts of z three through nine, or as they were roughly 11-13 billion years ago. Associate Professor Jeyhan Kartaltepe from Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Physics and Astronomy said that JWST’s ability to see faint high redshift galaxies in sharper detail than Hubble allowed the team of researchers to resolve more features and see a wide mix of galaxies, including many with mature features such as disks and spheroidal components.
“There have been previous studies emphasizing that we see a lot of galaxies with disks at high redshift, which is true, but in this study we also see a lot of galaxies with other structures, such as spheroids and irregular shapes, as we do at lower redshifts,” said Kartaltepe, lead author on the paper and CEERS co-investigator. “This means that even at these high redshifts, galaxies were already fairly evolved and had a wide range of structures.”
The results of the study, which have been posted to ArXiv and accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal, demonstrate JWST’s advances in depth, resolution, and wavelength coverage compared to Hubble. Out of the 850 galaxies used in the study that were previously identified by Hubble, 488 were reclassified with different morphologies after being shown in more detail with JWST. Kartaltepe said scientists are just beginning to reap the benefits of JWST’s impressive capabilities and are excited by what forthcoming data will reveal.
“This tells us that we don’t yet know when the earliest galaxy structures formed,” said Kartaltepe. “We’re not yet seeing the very first galaxies with disks. We’ll have to examine a lot more galaxies at even higher redshifts to really quantify at what point in time features like disks were able to form.”
In other words, it appears galaxies of all shapes, as we see them today, already existed 11-13 billion years ago, shortly after the universe was born. This defies most theories about the formation of the universe, which predict that these early galaxies would be different than today’s.
The data however at this point is sparse. Webb has only begun this work, and as Kartaltepe notes, they need to look a lot more galaxies.
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