One of the most interesting (and confounding) discoveries made by the James Webb Space Telescope(JWST) is the existence of “impossibly large galaxies.” As noted in a previous article, these galaxies existed during the “Cosmic Dawn,” the period that coincided with the end of the “Cosmic Dark Age” (roughly 1 billion years after the Big Bang). This period is believed to hold the answers to many cosmological mysteries, not the least of which is what the earliest galaxies in the Universe looked like. But after Webb obtained images of these primordial galaxies, astronomers noticed something perplexing.
The galaxies were much larger than what the most widely accepted cosmological model predicts! Since then, astronomers and astrophysicists have been racking their brains to explain how these galaxies could have formed. Recently, a team of astrophysicists from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Jerusalem published a theoretical model that addresses the mystery of these massive galaxies. According to their findings, the prevalence of special conditions in these galaxies (at the time) allowed highly-efficient rates of star formation without interference from other stars.
Located near the summit of Maunakea, Hawaii, the 15-meter (~49 ft) James Clerk Maxwell Telescope (JCMT) at the East Asia Observatory (EAO) is the largest telescope in the world designed to operate exclusively in the submillimetre-wavelength. In 2018, Molokai’i High School alumna Mallory Go was awarded time with the JCMT under the Maunakea Scholars program. With the assistance of EAO astronomer Dr. Harriet Parsons, Go obtained unique images of the Horsehead Nebula in polarized light, which revealed the nebula’s magnetic fields.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the cosmos, which the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has allowed astronomers to explore, is the phenomenon known as gravitational lenses. As Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity describes, the curvature of spacetime is altered by the presence of massive objects and their gravity. This effect leads to objects in space (like galaxies or galaxy clusters) altering the path light travels from more distant objects (and amplifying it as well). By taking advantage of this with a technique known as Gravitational Lensing, astronomers can study distant objects in greater detail.
Consider the image above, the ESA’s picture of the month acquired by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The image shows a vast gravitational lens caused by SDSS J1226+2149, a galaxy cluster located roughly 6.3 billion light-years from Earth in the constellation Coma Berenices. The lens these galaxies created greatly amplified light from the more distant Cosmic Seahorse galaxy. Combined with Webb‘s incredible sensitivity, this technique allowed astronomers to study the Cosmic Seahorse in the hopes of learning more about star formation in early galaxies.
Supermassive black holes (SMBHs) lurk in the center of large galaxies like ours. From their commanding position in the galaxy’s heart, they feed on gas, dust, stars, and anything else that strays too close, growing more massive as time passes. But in rare circumstances, an SMBH can be forced out of its position and hurtle through space as a rogue SMBH.
You’re looking at NGC 346, a star cluster 210 light years away that is energetically pumping out brand new stars from a dense cloud of gas and dust. Between 10 and 11 billion years ago, nearly all galaxies in the Universe underwent an era of intense star formation similar to what we see in NGC 346. This flurry of stellar birth is poetically nicknamed cosmic noon. Since then, star formation in the Universe has gradually dwindled, though it still blazes away in small pockets. By studying NGC 346 and other clusters like it, we can learn more about the era of cosmic noon and the evolution of galaxies.
To that end, researchers pointed the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam infrared camera at NGC 346 last year, and they announced their preliminary findings at the American Astronomical Society’s annual meeting on January 11, 2023.
When a spiral galaxy presents itself just right, observations reveal more detail. That’s the case with NGC 7469, a spiral galaxy about 220 million light-years away. It’s face-on towards us, and the James Webb Space Telescope captured its revealing scientific portrait.
Black holes are gluttonous behemoths that lurk in the center of galaxies. Almost everybody knows that nothing can escape them, not even light. So when anything made of simple matter gets too close, whether a planet, a star or a gas cloud, it’s doomed.
But the black hole doesn’t eat it at once. It plays with its food like a fussy kid. Sometimes, it spews out light.
When the black hole is not only at the center of a galaxy but the center of a cluster of galaxies, these burps and jets carve massive cavities out of the hot gas at the center of the cluster called radio bubbles.
It’s been a banner time for black hole research! In recent months, astrophysicists have announced the discovery of the most powerful gamma-ray burst ever recorded (due to the formation of a black hole), a monster black hole in our cosmic backyard, the frame-dragging effects of a binary black hole, and the remains of the 2017 Kilonova event (spoiler alert: it was a black hole). And with the help of citizen scientists, a team of astronomers recently discovered a unique black hole in a galaxy roughly one billion light-years away that’s hurling a relativistic jet at another galaxy.
The Orion Nebula is a giant cloud of gas and dust that spans more than 20,000 times the size of our own solar system. It one of the closest active star-forming regions to Earth, and is therefore one of the most observed and photographed objects in the night sky. The venerable Hubble Space Telescope has focused on the Orion Nebula many times, peering into giant cavities in the hazy gas, and at one point, Hubble took 520 images to create a giant mosaic of this spellbinding nebula.
Now, Hubble has captured new views of a wispy, colorful region in the Orion Nebula surrounding the Herbig-Haro object HH 505.