Astronomers have discovered the most distant example of a galaxy in the universe that looks like our home galaxy, the Milky Way.
When the universe was just two billion years old, the newfound spiral galaxy, ceers-2112, appears to have featured a bar of stars and gas cutting across its heart, like a slash across a no-smoking sign. The Milky Way, also a spiral galaxy, sports a similar bar. Scientists suspect the Milky Way’s bar rotates cylindrically, like a toilet roll holder does as you unravel toilet paper, funneling gas into the galaxy’s center and sparking bursts of star formation.
Astronomers previously thought this galactic structure marks the end of a galaxy’s formative years, so it was expected to be seen only in old galaxies that may have reached full maturity — perhaps those that existed halfway through the evolution of the universe. Indeed, the Hubble Space Telescope‘s past observations of galaxy morphologies have shown the early universe hosted very few barred galaxies.
However, the new findings, gleaned from data by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), conclude it may not be necessarily true that barred spirals must’ve roamed the universe for so long. The discovery of spiral galaxy ceers-2112 reveals galaxies that resemble our own already existed 11.7 billion years ago, “when the universe had just 15 percent of its life,” Luca Costantin, an astrophysicist at the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid and the lead author of the new study, told Space.com.
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The JWST can collect six times more light than Hubble, allowing for more detailed features of faraway galaxies to come into view. Ceers-2112 is observed at a redshift of 3, when the universe was 2,100 million years old. Essentially, this means the light from the galaxy took 11.7 billion years to reach the JWST, Costantin said. This is a surprising find, as the galactic bars are seen in roughly two-thirds…