Scientists discover more Milky Way-like galaxies in the early cosmos, which advances our knowledge of how galaxies began.

by Khushi Srivastava

Scientists at the University of Missouri are peeking into the past to unearth fresh clues about the early universe. Because light takes a long time to travel through space, they can now see how galaxies appeared billions of years before.

In a new study, Mizzou researchers discovered that spiral galaxies were more frequent in the early universe than previously believed. The paper is published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

“Scientists formerly believed most spiral galaxies developed around 6 to 7 billion years after the universe formed,” said Yicheng Guo, an associate professor in Mizzou’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and study co-author. “However, our research suggests that spiral galaxies were already common as early as 2 billion years later. This indicates galaxy formation happened more rapidly than we previously thought.”

This information could help scientists gain a better understanding of how spiral galaxies like the Milky Way, Earth’s home galaxy, developed throughout time.

“Knowing when spiral galaxies formed in the universe has been a popular question in astronomy because it helps us understand the evolution and history of the cosmos,” said Vicki Kuhn, a doctoral student from Mizzou’s Department of Physics and Astronomy who conducted the research.

“There are many theoretical concepts regarding how spiral arms form, but the mechanics vary between spiral galaxies. This new information allows scientists to better align the physical attributes of galaxies with theories, resulting in a more comprehensive cosmic history.”

Using recent photos from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scientists discovered that roughly 30% of galaxies exhibit a spiral structure approximately 2 billion years after the cosmos originated. The revelation significantly updates the universe’s beginning story, which was originally told using data from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope.

Studying distant galaxies with JWST allows Guo, Kuhn, and other scientists to solve a cosmic riddle by determining the significance of each hint.

“Using advanced instruments such as JWST allows us to study more distant galaxies with greater detail than ever before,” Guo stated. “A galaxy’s spiral arms are a key feature used by astronomers to classify galaxies and understand how they evolve over time. Even though scientists still have many concerns concerning the universe’s origins, studying this data allows us to unearth new hints and gain a better understanding of the physics that molded the formation of our world.

Kuhn presented these findings at the American Astronomical Society’s 244th conference in Madison, Wisconsin.

Reference – Scientists spot more Milky Way-like galaxies in early universe, advancing our understanding of how galaxies were formed

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