NOV 09, 2023 3:30 PM PST

Discovery of the Most Distant Barred Spiral Galaxy Reshapes Galaxy Evolution Theories

A recent study published in Nature examines spectacular new data from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) that reveals the oldest and farthest spiral galaxy like our Milky Way ever discovered, with an estimated age of approximately 2 billion years after the Big Bang. This study is profound as it has long been hypothesized that spiral galaxies could not exist until the Universe was approximately half of its current age of 13.8 billion years old.

Artist illustration of the spiral barred galaxy ceers-2112, which is the oldest and farthest spiral galaxy observed to date. The Earth’s reflection is seen on an illusive bubble surrounding ceers-2112, which attempts to establish a connection between the Milky Way and ceers-2112. (Credit: Luca Costantin/CAB/CSIC-INTA)

“This galaxy, named ceers-2112, formed soon after the Big Bang,” said Dr. Alexander de la Vega, who is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of California, Riverside, and a co-author on the groundbreaking study. “Finding ceers-2112 shows that galaxies in the early universe could be as ordered as the Milky Way. This is surprising because galaxies were much more chaotic in the early universe and very few had similar structures to the Milky Way.” 

The feature that gave away the spiral galaxy characteristics of ceers-2112 was the presence of a bar at its center, which are found in approximately two-thirds of all spiral galaxies and consist of stars while traditionally affecting the motions of the stars and interstellar gas that resides within the spiral galaxy, especially the spiral arms that encompass the spiral galaxy, as well. As noted, the longstanding hypothesis was that spiral galaxies took several billion years to form well enough to exhibit bars, so this finding could throw into question previous notions of the formation and evolution of spiral galaxies throughout the universe.

“The discovery of ceers-2112 shows that it can happen in only a fraction of that time, in about one billion years or less,” said Dr. de la Vega.

Additionally, the most surprising aspect was finding how well detailed their observations of the bars within ceers-2112 were able to be ascertained, which Dr. de la Vega offered immense praise to JWST and its powerful instruments.

What new discoveries will astronomers make about galaxies in the early universe in the coming years and decades? Only time will tell, and this is why we science!

As always, keep doing science & keep looking up!

Sources: Nature, EurekAlert!, Astrophysics and Space Science

About the Author
Master's (MA/MS/Other)
Laurence Tognetti is a six-year USAF Veteran who earned both a BSc and MSc from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University. Laurence is extremely passionate about outer space and science communication, and is the author of “Outer Solar System Moons: Your Personal 3D Journey”.
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