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Space Discovery Makes Splash: Webb Telescope Reveals Distant Galaxies Shaped Like 'Surfboards or Pool Noodles'

Galaxies Shaped Like 'Surfboards, Pool Noodles': Telescope
Source: NASA

Researchers used data from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope to discover distant galaxies resembling "surfboards and pool noodles" that raise new questions about galactic evolution.

Jan. 24 2024, Published 11:34 a.m. ET

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Recent cosmic research has unveiled peculiarly shaped galaxies in the distant cosmos, resembling objects such as "surfboards and pool noodles."

This discovery is prompting new inquiries into the evolutionary patterns of galactic forms spanning billions of years.

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Leveraging data from NASA's advanced James Webb Space Telescope, researchers observed that these distant galaxies exhibit flat and elongated oval structures, in contrast to the round, spiral-shaped galaxies found closer to Earth.

A statement describing the research, published on the Webb Space Telescope website, notes that nearby galaxies often display clear spiral formations with star-studded arms, resembling frisbees, or smooth ellipticals that resemble volleyballs.

The research team extensively analyzed data from Webb's Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science (CEERS) Survey, discovering that these flattened, surfboard-shaped galaxies were surprisingly prevalent between 600 million and 6 billion years ago.

The lead author, Viraj Pandya, a NASA Hubble Fellow at Columbia University, remarked that approximately 50 to 80 percent of the studied galaxies appeared flattened into two dimensions. He added, "Galaxies that look like pool noodles or surfboards seem to be very common in the early universe, which is surprising since they are uncommon nearby."

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Notably, these distant galaxies are smaller than their round counterparts closer to Earth, and researchers explained that they are precursors to larger galaxies “like our own.”

Kartheik Iyer, a co-author and NASA Hubble Fellow at Columbia University, noted that in the early universe, galaxies had far less time to grow" and expressed excitement about identifying additional categories for early galaxies.

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The findings also suggested that the Milky Way, currently spiral-shaped, may have appeared more like the oblong distant galaxies in its early stages. Haowen Zhang, a co-author and a PhD candidate at the University of Arizona, speculated, "Our best guess is that it might have appeared more like a surfboard."

The study highlighted the pivotal role played by Webb's advanced capabilities, including high-resolution imaging and the ability to capture infrared light, surpassing its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.

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Marc Huertas-Company, a faculty research scientist at the Institute of Astrophysics on the Canary Islands, noted that while Hubble had long indicated an excess of elongated galaxies, Webb's added sensitivity to infrared light revealed many more distant galaxies with similar shapes in great detail.

However, the researchers acknowledged uncertainties regarding whether the newly discovered distant galaxies "evolved over all of cosmic time." They emphasized the need for further refinement of properties and precise locations, requiring a larger sample from Webb.

Co-author Elizabeth McGrath, an associate professor at Colby College in Maine, emphasized that these are early results, expressing excitement about delving more deeply into the data to unravel the intricacies of these cosmic trends.

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