Using the James Webb Space Telescope, an international team, including astronomer Alexander de la Vega of the University of California, Riverside, has discovered the most distant barred spiral galaxy similar to the Milky Way that has been observed to date.
Until now it was believed that barred spiral galaxies like the Milky Way could not be observed before the universe, estimated to be 13.8 billion years old, reached half of its current age.
The research, published in Nature this week, was led by scientists at the Centro de Astrobiología in Spain.
“This galaxy, named ceers-2112, formed soon after the Big Bang,” said coauthor de la Vega, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Physics and Astronomy. “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.”
Ceers-2112 has a bar in its center. De la Vega explained that a galactic bar is a structure, made of stars, within galaxies. Galactic bars resemble bars in our everyday lives, such as a candy bar. It is possible to find bars in non-spiral galaxies, he said, but they are very rare.
“Nearly all bars are found in spiral galaxies,” said de la Vega, who joined UCR last year after receiving his doctoral degree in astronomy at Johns Hopkins University. “The bar in ceers-2112 suggests that galaxies matured and became ordered much faster than we previously thought, which means some aspects of our theories of galaxy formation and evolution need revision.”
Astronomers’ previous understanding of galaxy evolution was that it took several billion years for galaxies to become ordered enough to develop bars.
“The discovery of ceers-2112 shows that it can happen in only a fraction of that time, in about one billion years or less,” de la Vega said.
According to him, galactic bars are thought to form in spiral galaxies…