With the help of the James Webb Space Telescope, researchers have discovered the most distant barred spiral galaxy known. An unexpected discovery, which means we have to revise existing ideas and theories about how galaxies form and evolve.
Our Milky Way Galaxy is a so-called barred spiral galaxy. It has an elongated, ribbon-shaped structure extending through the center of the disk-shaped spiral galaxy. Spiral arms, containing stars, wrap around this band. Until recently, it was thought that barred spiral galaxies like the Milky Way did not exist until the universe reached about half its current age of 13.8 billion years. But the new discovery described in the prestigious journal natureNow this assumption is called into question.
Astronomers gazed up at the night sky using the powerful James Webb Telescope. This led to an unexpected discovery. They have found the most distant spiral galaxy with a central bar observed to date. This is unusual. This means that this galaxy appeared surprisingly “advanced” for its age. According to researchers, the newly discovered galaxy appears to be the sister of our Milky Way Galaxy. “The galaxy in question, CEERS-2112, formed shortly after the Big Bang,” says co-author Alexander de la Vega. “The discovery of this galaxy suggests that galaxies in the early universe could have been as organized as our own Milky Way. This is surprising, because galaxies were much more chaotic in that early period. Moreover, they had only a few similar structures.” To those in the Milky Way.
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The most amazing thing is that CEERS-2112 has a central bar. “A galactic bar is a structure made up of stars within a galaxy,” de la Vega explains. “These bars show similarities to objects we encounter in everyday life, such as a muesli bar.” Although it is possible to find bars in galaxies that do not have a spiral structure, they are very rare. “Bars are usually found in spiral galaxies,” de la Vega points out.
How do galactic bars in spiral galaxies actually form? It is generally believed that bars form in galaxies where stars rotate in an orderly manner, as happens in our Milky Way. “In such galaxies, bars can arise naturally due to instabilities in the spiral structure, or due to the gravitational effects of neighboring galaxies,” de la Vega explains. “As mentioned, we know that in the distant past, when the universe was still very young, galaxies were unstable and chaotic. So it was assumed that rays could not originate in a very young universe, or at least could not persist for a long time.
Therefore, finding a “second Milky Way” in the young universe is very special. The discovery of this distant galaxy suggests that some processes in the early universe occurred differently than we previously thought, impacting our general understanding of how galaxies form and evolve. For example, astronomers believe that it took several billion years for galaxies to become organized enough to form bars. But CEERS-2112 proves that this could apparently happen in a fraction of that time, in about a billion years or less. “The presence of a bar in CEERS-2112 indicates that galaxies may have matured more quickly and organized themselves over a shorter time frame than previously thought,” de la Vega said. “This means that certain aspects of our theories about how galaxies form and evolve need to be revised.”
Revised theoretical models
The discovery of CEERS-2112 will bring about at least two important changes in astronomy. “First of all, theoretical models describing the formation and evolution of galaxies must now take into account the possibility that some galaxies were stable enough to develop bars very early in the history of the universe,” de la Vega points out. “These theoretical models may have to revise the amount of dark matter involved in the formation of galaxies in the early Universe, because dark matter is thought to affect the rate at which bars form. Second, the discovery of CEERS-2112 shows that structures such as beams can be detected in the very young Universe. This is important Important because galaxies in the distant past were smaller than they are today, making bars generally more difficult to detect.The discovery of CEERS-2112 therefore opens the way to finding more rays in the young universe.
What surprised de la Vega most about the discovery of CEERS-2112 was how precisely and detailed the beam’s characteristics could be determined. “I thought that detecting and estimating the properties of bars in galaxies like CEERS-2112 would likely involve a large amount of measurement uncertainty,” the researcher said. “But thanks to the power of the James Webb Space Telescope and the expertise of our research team, we were able to map the size and shape of the beam very precisely.” Webb thus once again proved his worth conclusively.
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