Using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), astronomers have made an exciting discovery. They’ve found a galaxy far, far away that’s similar to the Milky Way’s. It’s so far away that its light has taken 11.7 billion years to reach us. In other words, we see the galaxy as it was when the universe was just 2 billion years old.
The galaxy, named ceers-2112, is a barred spiral galaxy just like the Milky Way. The team behind the discovery was led by scientists at the Centro de Astrobiología in Spain. They published the findings in Nature earlier this week.
“This discovery challenges our understanding of how galaxies form and evolve,” said lead author Luca Costantin of the Centro de Astrobiología in Spain. “We thought that barred spiral galaxies like the Milky Way took several billion years to form, but ceers-2112 shows that they could form much earlier.”
As UC Riverside explains, it was believed until now that barred spiral galaxies “could not be observed before the universe, estimated to be 13.8 billion years old, reached half of its current age.” However, this example shows that galaxies could form and evolve much faster than previously thought. It also suggests that galaxies like our Milky Way may also be more common in the early universe than previously thought.
Barred spiral galaxies are characterized by a central bar of stars and gas, from which spiral arms extend. The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy, and about two-thirds of all spiral galaxies are thought to be barred. Ceers-2112 is the most distant barred spiral galaxy ever discovered. It is also one of the most massive, with a mass similar to that of the Milky Way.
“This discovery is a major breakthrough in our understanding of galaxy formation and evolution,” said coauthor Alexander de la Vega of the University of California, Riverside. “It shows that the early universe was a more dynamic and complex place than we thought.”
Astronomers are now using the JWST to study ceers-2112 in more detail. After this important finding, they also plan to use the telescope to search for other barred spiral galaxies in the early universe. And hopefully, we’ll get to see pictures too.