NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is helping scientists unravel the mystery of spiral galaxies and has captured a detailed image of several belonging to the early Universe from a time known as ‘cosmic noon’.
The period is eight to 10 billion years ago when galaxies formed about half their present stellar mass, making this group the most distant that can be seen with human eyes.
While the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope have provided observations of these twisted clusters of stars and gas, JWST’s ability to capture incredible detail will help scientists understand the detailed shapes and properties.
One of the three observed by JWST is a passive spiral galaxy that is not giving birth to new stars, and the discovery could show that this rare spiral galaxy is abundant throughout the universe.
While the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Telescope have provided observations of these twisted clusters of stars and gas, JWST’s ability to capture incredible detail will help scientists understand the detailed shapes and properties
Red spiral galaxies are rare, accounting for only 2 percent of the galaxies in the local Universe, and the color typically means they formed in the early Universe.
Because of this, astronomers look for these formations in hopes that they will tell us more secrets about the early Universe.
Using JWST’s powerful mechanics, NASA hopes to reconstruct the star formation history of this galaxy, which it believes formed billions of years ago – not too long after the Big Bang.
JWST captured three spirals while studying space: RS12, RS13 and RS14.
And all are in the SMACS 0723 field.
The morphology of spiral galaxies is of great importance because ‘it provides insight into the mechanism of galaxy formation when observed over cosmic time,’ according to the scientists at Waseda University in Japan who led the research.
“In particular, the question of when and where galaxy morphology emerged in the early Universe is still a matter of intense study.”
Using spectral energy distribution (SED) analysis, the researchers measured the energy distribution of these galaxies over a broad range of wavelengths.
The results showed that the red spirals formed at least three billion years after the Big Bang, when the universe formed.
Also, one of the detailed images shows a passive spiral galaxy, contradicting the notion that all such formations were active in the early Universe.
By passive, the team means they don’t form new stars.
And the observation of JWST means there could be more lurking in the universe than previously thought.
Junior Researcher Yoshinobu Fudamoto said in a statement, “Taken together, the results of this study greatly advance our knowledge of red spiral galaxies and the Universe as a whole.”
“Our study showed for the first time that passive spiral galaxies could be abundant in the early Universe.
“While this paper is a pilot study of spiral galaxies in the early Universe, confirmation and extension of this study would greatly impact our understanding of the formation and evolution of galactic morphologies.”
Two of the three galaxies are still giving birth to new stars, while the third is passive and not forming new stars
JWST has captured more images of spiral galaxies, including one showing the chaos of the Cartwheel Galaxy, 489.2 million light-years from Earth.
Similar to a wagon wheel, its appearance results from an extreme event – a high-speed collision between a large spiral galaxy and a smaller galaxy not visible in this image.
Other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, have previously studied the wagon wheel.
But the dramatic galaxy has been shrouded in mystery – perhaps literally given the amount of dust obscuring the view.
JWST’s infrared capabilities mean it can look back in time as far as 100 to 200 million years after the Big Bang, allowing it to take pictures of the very first stars that shone in the universe more than 13.5 billion years ago.
JWST has captured more images of spiral galaxies, including one showing the chaos of the Cartwheel Galaxy, 489.2 million light-years from Earth
His first images of nebulae, an exoplanet and galaxy clusters sparked great celebrations in the scientific world on a “great day for mankind.”
Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the mass, age, history and composition of galaxies as the telescope attempts to study the earliest galaxies in the universe.
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The James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope was designed to discover light from the earliest stars and galaxies
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unlock the mysteries of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early Universe more than 13.5 billion years ago and to observe the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The giant telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is believed to be the successor to the Hubble orbiting space telescope
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 degrees Celsius).
It is the largest and most powerful orbital space telescope in the world, able to look back 100 to 200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is said to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA considers James Webb to be Hubble’s successor rather than a replacement as the two will be working together for a while.
The Hubble Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It orbits the Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph (27,300 km/h) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles altitude.