James Webb Telescope has already started changing models and baffling scientists

Astronomers' beliefs are already being challenged by the telescope's discoveries.
Fabienne Lang
“Cosmic Cliffs” in the Carina Nebula
“Cosmic Cliffs” in the Carina Nebula


The famed James Webb Space Telescope, launched eight months ago and orbiting the sun a million miles from Earth, has started bringing up a number of questions for astronomers as its striking images flood in.

Unsurprisingly, the telescope has delivered some intriguing and exciting observations of the very distant universe. Surprisingly, these observations are not what astronomers thought they would be, as was first reported in the Washington Post.

Some of the first images the telescope has been capturing are of extremely distant and "early" galaxies. These were believed to be small, a little chaotic, and misshapen systems. After the James Webb Space Telescope snapped some incredible images, these galaxies appear to be impressively large, balanced, and well-structured. All of this poses astronomers to scratch their heads in unison.

Observing these "early" galaxies is one of the telescope's main objectives. It aims to see deeper into space, further back in time, and clearer than any previous telescope. And as these images have poured in over the past few weeks, it's clear the telescope has delivered on its promise abundantly.

What this means

Not to worry, these discoveries don't mean a cosmological disaster is imminent and that all we know as humans should disappear into a black hole. As astrophysicist Jeyhan Kartaltepe of the Rochester Institute of Technology told the Washington Post, it simply means "this is a lot of fast science, conducted 'in real time'."

Wonderfully, the telescope is gathering oodles of publicly-available data for astronomers to sift through, question, and make remarkable discoveries. It's science on steroids. Typically, scientific discoveries are made over time, at a decent pace. This, however, is another scientific beast altogether, as Webb is bringing back bucketloads of thrilling data quickly for scientists to examine eagerly.

As Kartaltepe said to the Washington Post, she is certainly not worried about "any tension between astrophysical theory and what Webb is seeing: “We might be scratching our heads one day, but a day later, ‘Oh, this all makes sense now.’”

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James Webb Telescope has already started changing models and baffling scientists
Webb's first deep field image

Previously, images captured by telescopes like the Hubble Space Telescope confirmed what scientists believed to be true of distant galaxies. Now, the new Webb telescope seems to show these findings were an illusion based on older technology. And that's exactly what new tech is meant to do.

Webb observes space in the infrared, gathering light outside the range of Hubble. With Hubble, astronomer Dan Coe of the Space Telescope Science Institute said to the Washington Post, “We were missing all the colder stars and the older stars. We were really only seeing the hot young ones.”

As far as astronomers are now saying, the most straightforward explanation for these new galactic discoveries is that a trick of the light may have caused a miscalculation around their size. Dust is also a factor to consider, say the scientists. And they're not crossing off other potential explanations that may surface as time passes.

Ultimately, the James Webb Space Telescope is doing exactly what it is meant to do – revealing novel, exciting information about our incredible universe.

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