Using a powerful new telescope called the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered the most faraway barred spiral galaxy that looks like our home Milky Way galaxy. This galaxy formed not too long after the Big Bang, when the universe first began.

The galaxy’s name is ceers-2112. It has a bar shape made of stars in its middle, just like the Milky Way does. Before this, astronomers thought galaxies couldn’t have bars so early in the universe’s life.

Bars are important because they show a galaxy is mature and orderly. The discovery means some galaxies grew up faster than we thought!

What’s a Barred Spiral Galaxy?

Spiral galaxies like our Milky Way have swirling arms of stars and gas clouds. They spin around slowly over billions of years.

Many spiral galaxies also have a straight bar shape made of stars crossing their middle. The bars look like candy bars!

From above, the whole thing looks like a pinwheel. The bars help move stuff like gas and stars around inside the galaxies.

Why Find Faraway Galaxies?

Astronomers want to look deep into space to see the earliest galaxies from when the universe was very young. The universe started with a Big Bang about 13.8 billion years ago. Studying infant galaxies helps explain how they grew up over time.

Galaxies were chaotic and changing quickly back then. They only started growing orderly arms and bars later on.

Finding ceers-2112 so early in the universe’s life surprises astronomers. They thought galaxies needed a few billion more years to get so neat and structured.

Seeing Ancient Light

The new James Webb telescope can see extremely far into space. It collects the faint light from the earliest stars and galaxies. This lets astronomers look back in time over 13 billion years.

The light from ceers-2112 took over 13 billion years to reach Earth! We see ceers-2112 as it looked long ago near the beginning of the universe. Back then it was already spinning and had a tidy bar crossing its middle.

New Ideas About Galaxy Growth

The discovery means galaxies could mature and settle down faster than we thought. Astronomers need to tweak their ideas about how galaxies grow up!

Bars show that stuff inside galaxies moves in a nice orderly way pretty early on. Dark matter may help form bars. Astronomers may need to rethink how much dark matter young galaxies contain.

Finding more barred galaxies from the distant past will help fill in details about how the earliest structures formed after the Big Bang. Astronomers are excited to hunt for more with the powerful James Webb telescope!


Sources

University of California – Riverside | Costantin, L., Pérez-González, P.G., Guo, Y. et al. A Milky Way-like barred spiral galaxy at a redshift of 3. Nature (2023). doi.org/10.1038/s41586-023-06636-x


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