February 26, 2024

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Many early galaxies looked like pool noodles and surfboards

Many early galaxies looked like pool noodles and surfboards

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has revealed that galaxies in the early universe mainly resemble elongated shapes, such as surfboards and pond noodles, rather than round shapes. This discovery, based on analysis of near-infrared images from the CEERS survey, represents an important discovery about the structure of early galaxies and extends insights provided by the Hubble Space Telescope. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Steve Finkelstein (UT Austin), Michaela Bagley (UT Austin), Rebecca Larson (UT Austin)

Hang ten! Researchers using Webb found that many distant galaxies have flat elliptical disks and tube-like shapes, rather than spiral or elliptical structures.

Ready to hit the cosmic “waves” using James Webb Space Telescope? Like a lifeguard on duty, Webb scanned the horizon and spotted distant galaxies in the shapes of volleyballs, Frisbees, surfboards and surfboards.

The researchers who analyzed Webb's data also found that surfboard-like galaxies and noodle galaxies were more common when the universe was between 600 million and 6 billion years old. This contradicts what we previously confirmed for galaxies closer to the “shore” with other telescopes. Nearby galaxies are often clearly defined spirals with starry arms, which also look like flying saucers, or smooth ellipsoids, which also look like flying balls.

It is not yet clear whether new galaxy shapes have evolved over the entire cosmic time. Future research is needed to figure out how the 3D geometries of galaxies have shifted over more than 13 billion years.

3D classifications of distant galaxies in the CEERS web survey

These are examples of distant galaxies captured by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope in the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS).
Recent CEERS research led by Viraj Pandya, a NASA Hubble Fellow at Columbia University in New York, has shown that galaxies often appear flat and elongated, like spaghetti or surfboards (along the top row).
Thin, disc-like circular galaxies, which resemble flying saucers, are the next major group (bottom left and center).
Finally, galaxies with a spherical shape, or flying balls, made up the smallest fraction of their findings (bottom right).
It is estimated that all of these galaxies existed when the universe was between 600 million and 6 billion years old.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Steve Finkelstein (UT Austin), Michaela Bagley (UT Austin), Rebecca Larson (UT Austin)

Webb shows that many early galaxies were like pool noodles and surfboards

Researchers analyze images from NASAThe James Webb Space Telescope has found that galaxies in the early universe are often flat and elongated, like surfboards and billiard noodles — and rarely round, like volleyballs or frisbees. “Approximately 50 to 80% of the galaxies we studied appear to be flat in two dimensions,” explained lead author Viraj Pandya, a Hubble Fellow at NASA. Columbia University in New York. “Galaxies that look like pool noodles or surfboards appear to be very common in the early universe, which is surprising, because they are uncommon nearby.”

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The team focused on a wide range of near-infrared images provided by Webb, known as the Cosmic Evolution Early Evolution Science Survey (CEERS), from which they extracted galaxies estimated to have existed when the universe was between 600 million and 6 billion years old.

While most distant galaxies look like surfboards and pool noodles, others are shaped like flying saucers and volleyballs. “Flying balls” or spherical galaxies appear to be the type most compact on the cosmic “ocean” and were also often the least defined. Frisbees have been found to be as large as a surfboard and spaghetti-shaped galaxies along the “horizon,” but they become more common near the “shore” in the neighboring universe. (Compare them in the illustration below.)

The shapes of early galaxies were discovered by Webb

Pandya's team identified four main classifications, shown above as 3D objects and cross-sections. They are ordered from least to most frequent.
At top left, a Webb scan shows a classification rare in the early universe, but common today: galaxies that have a spherical shape, or volleys.
At the top right are flat circular discs or flying saucers, which are a bit more common.
The shapes of galaxies that dominated during this early period appear flat and elongated, like surfboards, shown at the bottom left, or swimming pool noodles, at the bottom right. This pair of classifications makes up roughly 50 to 80 percent of all the distant galaxies they have studied so far — a surprise, because these forms are uncommon nearby.
Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Joseph Olmstead (STScI), Viraj Pandya (Columbia), Hawen Zhang (University of Arizona), Lucy Redding-Ekanda (Simmons Foundation)

The category that we will have milky way Would the galaxy collapse if we could turn back the clock billions of years? “Our best guess is that it probably looked like a surfboard,” said co-author Hawen Zhang, a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona in Tucson. This hypothesis is based in part on new evidence from Webb, in which theorists “turned back the clock” to estimate the Milky Way's mass billions of years ago, which was tied to the shape at the time.

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These distant galaxies are also much less massive than nearby spiral and elliptical galaxies, a precursor to more massive galaxies like our own. “In the early universe, galaxies had much less time to grow,” said Karthik Iyer, co-author and a NASA Hubble Fellow also at Columbia University. “Identifying additional classes of early galaxies is exciting – there is a lot to analyze now. We can now study how the shapes of galaxies relate to their appearance and provide a better view of how they formed in more detail.

Milky Way Galaxy infographic

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, has a supermassive black hole at its core surrounded by a central bulge of ancient, yellow stars. Beyond that are bluish spiral arms filled with younger stars, newly forming stars, and dark lanes of dust. Credit: NASA and STScI

Webb's sensitivity, high-resolution images, and specialization in infrared light allowed the team to make quick work of characterizing and developing 3D geometric models of many of the CEERS galaxies. Pandya also says their work would not have been possible without the extensive research conducted by astronomers using NASA Hubble Space Telescope.

For decades, Hubble has dazzled us with images of some of the oldest galaxies, starting with the very first “Deep Field” in 1995 and continuing the core survey known as the Cosmic Heritage Deep Extragalactic Near-Infrared Survey. Deep-sky surveys like these have yielded much larger statistics, prompting astronomers to create powerful 3D models of distant galaxies around the world. Cosmic time. Today, Webb is helping to advance these efforts, adding to a large collection of distant galaxies that lie beyond Hubble's reach, and revealing the early universe in much greater detail than was previously possible.

Part of the Scientific Early Evolutionary Survey (CEERS).

This is part of the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS), which consists of several near-infrared indicators from NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera) on board the James Webb Space Telescope. These observations fall within the same region studied by the Hubble Space Telescope, known as the Groth Extension Bar.
The north and east compass arrows show the direction of the image in the sky. Notice that the relationship between north and east in the sky (as seen from below) is inverted relative to the directional arrows on the Earth's map (as seen from above).
This image shows invisible wavelengths of near-infrared light translated into the colors of visible light. The color key shows which NIRCam filters were used when collecting the light. The color of each filter name is the color of visible light used to represent the infrared light passing through that filter.
The scale bar is called arc seconds, and is a measure of angular distance in the sky. One arcsecond equals an angular measure of 1/3600 of one degree. There are 60 arc minutes in a degree and 60 arc seconds in an arc minute. (The Moon's angular diameter is about 30 arc minutes.) The actual size of an object covering one arcsecond in the sky depends on its distance from the telescope.
Image credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Steve Finkelstein (UT Austin), Michaela Bagley (UT Austin)

Webb's images of the early universe were like ocean waves, providing new waves of evidence. “Hubble has long shown that there is an excess of rectangular galaxies,” explained co-author Mark Huertas, a research scientist at the Institute of Astrophysics of the Canary Islands. But researchers still wonder: Would additional details appear better with sensitivity to infrared light? “Webb confirmed that Hubble did not miss any additional features in the galaxies they both observed. In addition, Webb showed us many distant galaxies with similar shapes, all in great detail.”

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There are still gaps in our knowledge — not only will researchers need a larger sample size than Webb to refine the properties and precise locations of distant galaxies, they will also need to spend a lot of time tweaking and updating their models to better reflect the precise geometries. From distant galaxies. “These are early results,” said co-author Elizabeth McGrath, an assistant professor at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. “We need to dig deeper into the data to figure out what's going on, but we're very excited about these early trends.”

Reference: “Banana-shaped galaxies: inferring the 3D geometry of high-redshift galaxies using JWST-CEERS” by Viraj Pandya, Haowen Zhang, Mark Huertas, Karthik J. Iyer, Elizabeth McGrath, Guillermo Barro, Steven L. Finkelstein, Martin Quimmel, William J. Hartley, Henry C. Ferguson, Jehan S. Kartaltepe, Joel Primack, Avishay Dekel, Sandra M. Faber, David C. Coe, Greg L. Bryan, Rachel S. Somerville, Ricardo O. Amorin, Pablo Arrabal Haro, Michaela B. Bagley, Eric F. Bell, Emmanuel Bertin, Luca Costantin, Romelle Dave, Mark Dickinson, Robert Feldman, Adriano Fontana, Rafael Gavazzi, Mauro Giavalesco, Andrea Grazian, Norman A. Grogen, Yuchen Guo, Changhun Han , Penny Holwerda, Lisa J. Kewley, Alison Kirkpatrick, Anton M. Quickmore, Jennifer M. Lutz, Ray A. Lucas, Laura Pinterici, Pablo G. Perez Gonzalez, Nor Pierzkal, Dale D. Kosevski, Casey Babovich, Swara Ravindranath, Kaitlyn Rose, Mark Schaefer, Raymond C. Simmons, Amber N. Strawn, Sandro Takela, Jonathan R. Trump, Alexander de la Vega, Stephen M. Wilkins, Stijn Witts, Guang Yang, and Lee Aaron Young, accepted, the Astrophysical Journal.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the world's leading space science observatory. Webb solves the mysteries of our solar system, looks beyond the distant worlds around other stars, and explores the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. WEB is an international program led by NASA with its partners the European Space Agency (ESA).European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.