JWST Surprises and Discoveries
Galaxies evolve quicker than expected, and
stunning new images of Hubble classics dazzle the eyes.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been busy since the first images were released on July 12. Here are some of the latest findings reported in the news.
JWST finds galaxies may adopt Milky Way-like shape faster than thought (New Scientist, 25 July 2022).
The “lumpiness problem” in big bang cosmology just got worse. Astronomers expected slow and gradual development of galaxies, but the JWST shows a different picture. Will Gater writes,
Astronomers thought that galaxies in the early universe would mostly be shapeless blobs, but an analysis of data from the James Webb Space Telescope suggests around half are disc-shaped like the Milky Way.
Astronomers have been looking carefully at the new Deep Field image posted last month. The results were surprising.
Astronomers analysing some of the first scientific data released by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have already seen something they weren’t expecting. A deep view of the early universe appears to show a surprisingly high number of disc-shaped galaxies, rather than a large number of clumpy, irregular ones. This suggests that the disc structures in certain galaxies, including the Milky Way, may have formed more rapidly than current theories predict.
Is the James Webb Space Telescope finding the furthest, oldest, youngest or first galaxies? (The Conversation, 1 Aug 2022).
Dr Michael Brown at Monash University, who studies old galaxies, admits being puzzled by headlines that the JWST has revealed “the oldest galaxies we have ever seen.” One must understand lookback time, he says. We’re not seeing objects as they are, but as they were.
While these very distant galaxies have been advertised as the “oldest galaxies”, I find this a little confusing. We are actually seeing these galaxies as they appeared when they were very young, perhaps a hundred million years old or so.
They would better be described as the earliest galaxies ever seen, he remarks. It follows that what happened to them since the light left the galaxies cannot be observed.
JWST has spotted a weird, distant galaxy with almost no heavy elements (New Scientist, 1 Aug 2022).
Galaxies in the distant universe are expected to have fewer heavy elements than nearby ones, but the James Webb Space Telescope has found a surprising one with almost none at all.
So writes Leah Crane about 3 galaxies in the Deep Field image studied by astronomers at University of Cambridge led by Mirko Curti. Readers should understand what astronomers mean by “metals”— the term is cosmic shorthand for elements heavier than helium. According to theory, those “metals” should result from supernova explosions in later generations of stars.
Two of the galaxies that Curti’s team examined were about 29.4 billion light years away from Earth, while the third was about 30.2 billion light years away. The nearer galaxies had less metals than galaxies in our part of the universe, which was as expected, but the further one had almost no metals at all – just 2 per cent of the metal content of the sun. “This is one of the most extremely metal-poor objects that we have ever seen,” says Curti.
Spotting such a strange galaxy so soon into JWST’s observing campaign was a surprise. “We sort of expected that galaxies at these high [distances] would be peculiar, but probably no one was expecting to immediately see evidence for this extremely metal-poor galaxy in the very first data,” says Curti.
While lower and lower metallicity is expected further back in time, a non-zero measurement implies that some stars had matured and exploded to produce the heavier elements, if they indeed are products of nucleosynthesis in supernovas. No one has seen theoretical “Population III” stars made of pure hydrogen. Whether JWST finds any of those remains to be seen.
We found some strange radio sources in a distant galaxy cluster. They’re making us rethink what we thought we knew. (The Conversation, 31 July 2022).
The data for this “rethink” comes not from the JWST, but from the ASKAP radio telescope and the Australia Telescope Compact Array (ATCA). The data from galaxy cluster Abell 3266, Christopher Riseley and Tessa Vernstrom confess, “defy existing theories about both the origins of such objects and their characteristics.”
Our best physical models simply can’t fit the data. This reveals gaps in our understanding of how these sources evolve – gaps that we’re working to fill…..
This is the beginning of the road towards understanding Abell 3266. We have uncovered a wealth of new and detailed information, but our study has raised yet more questions.
Scientists are a strange bunch. They find pleasure in overturning theories. Perhaps it gives them job security. But what does that say for the students who learned those theories out of textbooks that confidently proclaimed what they thought the experts knew?
JWST has released a striking new image of the strange Cartwheel galaxy (New Scientist, 2 Aug 2022).
This new image from JWST of a Hubble Classic should please everyone’s eyes. The Cartwheel Galaxy is one of the rare “ring galaxies” seen by Hubble. The Cartwheel is supposed to represent the aftermath of a collision of one galaxy that passed through another. Whatever happened, the result is stunning.
Compare with the Hubble image of the Cartwheel. The JWST gathers data in invisible infrared wavelengths. They are translated by image processing into visible colors for human eyes.
The red regions are thought to be areas of active star formation where gas was compressed by the collision. The “spokes” of the wheel are thought to be remnants of the galaxy’s spiral arms. There are discrepancies between data and theory again, however.
This image also revealed a region of star formation at the bottom right of the galaxy that is much brighter than researchers expected. As they continue to analyse the image, they will gain more insight into how the Cartwheel galaxy is evolving and what it might look like in the future as the aftermath of its titanic collision settles down.
In astronomy, “evolving” means something very different than it does in biology. It simply means change over time—not innovation of more complex specified information. Gas and dust in motion follows the laws of physics.
Astronomy Data and the Search for Habitable Worlds (NASA Astrobiology Institute, 3 Aug 2022).
This is simplistic propaganda for kiddos. No habitable worlds have been found, and no life will be found by the JWST.
The Webb telescope is not designed to look for life but could unlock important information about the habitability of exoplanets and thus the potential for life beyond our solar system.
This hope hype quickly degenerates into the daily grind of two astronomers looking at pixels of data.
James Webb Telescope Goes Live: Stephen Meyer Reports (ID the Future).
Dr Stephen Meyer, a leader of the intelligent design movement at the Discovery Institute, gives his take on what the JWST might find in a radio interview with Michael Medved. Meyer is not an astronomer and takes an old-earth position. His latest book The Return of the God Hypothesis takes a common ID position that the big bang represents a creation event, because it shows that the universe had a beginning. A beginning implies a Creator; this was acknowledged as a problem by the late materialist astronomer Robert Jastrow, as shown in this short film clip from Illustra Media.
Big Bang cosmology, however, relies on a number of unprovable assumptions about light and time (see 11 Jan 2022 and our earlier articles on Cosmology). One evidence all ID advocates and creationists will agree on, though, Meyer also shares: the exquisite fine-tuning of the universe for life, as discussed in the Illustra film, The Privileged Planet.
CEH enthusiastically supports discovery of data. Best wishes to a bright future for the JWST!
Before swallowing the big bang as the Christian explanation for the origin of the universe, be sure to watch the documentary by Spike Psarris, “Our Created Universe.” This former atheist in aerospace engineering examines Big Bang theory and its many problems with the evidence. He quotes leading cosmologists and astronomers. Yes, it’s good to know the universe had a beginning, but if one accepts all the other assumptions of secular astronomy, with its billions of years for the age of the Earth, it’s not likely to draw people to genuine faith in God. Meyer dismisses a question about the purpose of dinosaurs that died out 65 million years ago with a joke, suggesting that they were created for the endless amusement of 4-year-old boys. It’s a funny line but not satisfying. Did the world really go through 4 billion years of evolution with humans arriving in the last fraction of a percent? Were the ancestors of Adam and Eve hominids? How does that support human exceptionalism? How does all this compromise with secular dogma draw people to the Lord? Old-earthers have their comeback arguments, but they have a hard time reconciling vast ages with the Biblical text which explicitly names Christ as the creator of the heavens and the earth and gives genealogies that cannot be stretched back millions of years. A recent creation position, with a global flood, explains many things like dinosaur soft tissue, the Grand Canyon, genetic evidence for a first human pair, the decay of earth’s magnetic field and numerous geophysical processes that indicate youth and preclude long ages. Recent creation also avoids many theological problems that confound old-agers. Every position is going to face questions and problems, but Psarris in his videos gives ample reasons why the Bible can be trusted scientifically regarding age issues. Intelligent design is good for refuting atheism. Biblical creation, we say, is better for turning people to the Lord Jesus Christ.