JWST and Large Distant Galaxies

The pictures are gorgeous and the distant galaxies are likely to be numerous.

Several astronomers I’ve spoken with say that the preliminary discovery, if it holds true, could have extraordinary implications for the next era of astronomy. Neither of the teams that spotted the cosmic tomato expected to find a galaxy like this so soon, in their very first observations of this kind. Astronomers haven’t even cranked up the Webb telescope as far as it can go; they’ve given it a little poke, and already distant galaxies like this one are “just falling off the tree,” Jane Rigby, a NASA astrophysicist and the Webb operations project scientist, told me. Plus, the galaxy appeared in a tiny field of view, smaller than a crater on the moon in the night sky; who knows what else Webb will find in the entire moon’s worth of sky? With each deep observation, every big rewind, the telescope will bring us closer to the Big Bang, revealing faint galaxy after galaxy.

For now, astronomers are basking in the possibility of Glassy, which, on top of being a potential record-breaker, is also far weirder than they’d imagined. Astronomers have always thought that galaxies couldn’t have gotten very big so early in the universe’s history, and would start bulking up on stars about 500 million years out from the Big Bang. But Glassy is extremely luminous, suggesting that it holds an abundance of stars, which together are 1 billion times as massive as our sun. “That would mean that star formation gets going fast,” Chris Lintott, an Oxford astronomer who studies galaxy formation and was not involved in the new research, told me.

I fully expected this to be the result of this telescope’s observations. So when John asked months back (linked below) what it would take to reconsider my YEC position, JWST observations came to mind, as I had been reading a lot of articles about the telescope. I was prepared to reconsider my position if the telescope did not show unexpected clumpiness in the “early universe.” Of course, I know we have to find more galaxies first; it could be a fluke - the first view was just pointed in the location of an anomaly.

If we do find more large galaxies, does my prediction of unexpected clumpiness count as a testable prediction? Because I’d like a win on this infernal forum. :joy:

Ars Technica also has an article that gives a bit more context. Apparently these possible galaxies aren’t that large - at least not in terms of numbers of stars, but that fits with older galaxies.

The spectrography results should be interesting because these should be Population III stars.

It is interesting to have metallicity confirmed at 13.1 Billion ly.

Webb Spectrum Showcases Galaxy’s Composition (NIRSpec Emission Spectrum)

Here is a quick preprint dealing with initial survey of galactic shapes.

First Rest-frame Optical Observations of Galaxy Structure at z > 3 with JWST in the SMACS 0723 Field

The two astronomical challenges for YEC, which the JWST only deepens, are distant starlight, and the images of interactions which require tens of thousands to hundreds of millions of years to unfold. The Stephan’s Quintet image is another clear example of tidally distortions which have resulted from galactic close encounters. As a bonus, the formation of young stars are clearly visible where gas has been disrupted. This is not a picture of maturity, of galaxies sitting properly as adults. This is a picture of dynamic process involving clumping over deep time on a cosmological scale.


The biggest problem with your prediction is that you haven’t shown how it follows from your hypothesis - or explained how your hypothesis would be refuted if the Universe were less “clumpy”. The second biggest problem is that this sort of evidence would be consistent with other hypotheses more in line with current science.

Naively we should not expect to be able to see these galaxies at all, unless the Universe was more than 10,000,000,000 years old. Naively this evidence would seem more easily explained by positing that the Universe was even older than we believe. (Although it seems to me that rather a lot can happen in 300,000,000 years so I don’t think we need to go there yet).

So I think that even if you answered the first problem this isn’t very significant for your views,


On a second reading I find this sentence to be ambiguous:

But Glassy is extremely luminous, suggesting that it holds an abundance of stars, which together are 1 billion times as massive as our sun.

Are they talking about the size of individual stars, the mass of individual stars, or both - or are they talking about the total mass and luminosity of the galaxy itself? A galaxy with a billion times the mass of the sun would be a tiny galaxy. But they might individually be very large and bright, which would seem to match expectations:

Of course an individual star can’t physically have a billion times the mass of the sun as it would collapse into a black hole.

I detect a certain amount of sensationalizm in the pop-sci article. “Nobody expected this”. Turns out it’s all expected?

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Uhm, it has been my understanding that the earliest stars in the history of the universe were already expected to be massive. Here’s a pop-sci article from 2015 saying as much:

So it’s not clear to me how this latest observation from Webb deviates from expectations. Perhaps they’re even bigger than expected? If so then it’s not clear whether this should count as failed or a partial confirmation of predictions. They’re bigger than in present times as expected, but off the charts?

But that would seem to contradict your own prediction (if one can even call it that), which sounded like you thought the most distant universe “would be like it is now”.

In the far reaches of “time” I’m hypothesizing it will look like it does in our neighborhood of the universe - far too clumpy.

But it isn’t, the stars back then were apparently much bigger. Okay you do clarify it’s about clumpiness. But what the hell does that mean anyway? It’s seems a wee bit easy to say now after the fact that you were speaking about the sizes of stars all along.


No, because your subjective qualifications of it as “unexpected” and “too clumpy” makes it non-empirical and provides you with an escape hatch. Science is about baking all of the interpretations in before making the prediction, which has to predict what we directly observe.

Those rules are there to help us overcome our human tendency for confirmation bias.

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I expect that the location of this early JWST observation was planned well in advance because it was known to produce powerful gravitational lensing. They were expecting it to allow astronomers to see deep (and so so to see into the early universe), and that is why they looked there. Yes, it was maybe a bit of luck that it worked so well the first time, but there is the old saying that “you make your own luck”.

Ancient and distant galaxies are thought to hold powerful quasars (super massive black holes), which makes them especially bright. I don’t know if the luminosity of this one is because of that, or bc the accretion of luminous material is more massive than expected. But one can expect astronomers are weighing these options.

There is really zero hope of a young universe. That horse left the barn in the 1920’s. Measurements of its age had spiraled upwards with better instruments, and now corrections are about adding decimal points to those measurements. There is zero chance of a significant error.


Its well established that we see distant parts of the universe that are far more than 13.8 billion light years away because the universe is expanding. I have a hard time quite getting my head wrapped around that one, but astronomers are comfortable with it, and there is every reason to expect they know a heck of a lot more than I do.

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Ahem. Well, almost all astronomers… Ken Ham’s “Scientist” and “Rocket Scientist” on JWST photos

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As I understand it, not possible in the current paradigm. The expansion of the universe has been measured, and the age is based on that.

I’ve had a lot going on so hope to respond to the replies in more detail soon.

Other candidates for distant galaxies are being identified: Scottish astronomers push James Webb deeper back in time - BBC News

I think that there is still a degree of uncertainty about the figure, and there is always the potential for new discoveries. Reducing the age to even a few million years would be far less likely,

It looks like the biggest surprises so far are that the galaxy in the original post isn’t tiny, instead it’s small, and mature looking with a disk, and that these galaxies should be hard to find, not plentiful like it looks like they’re going to be.

By looking farther and deeper in the infrared than any telescope before it, James Webb will be able to see galaxies back to when the Universe was only 250 million years old. This will likely include the first direct observations of pristine stars and tiny galaxies, collections which may be no more than a few star-forming regions merging together. It should be able to prove that it’s galaxies, not isolated star formation, are responsible for reionizing the Universe.

But if the first galaxies form even earlier than that, James Webb will run into limitations, and all we’ll be able to do is make inferences for the truly first sources of stellar light. Another huge advance will come from WFIRST, NASA’s true successor to Hubble, launching in 2024. WFIRST will have the same capability of seeing deep into the visible and near-infrared portion of the spectrum, but with one hundred times the field-of-view of Hubble. With WFIRST, we should be able to measure star formation and reionization over the entire Universe. At last’ we’re finally learning how the Universe went from no stars or galaxies to the very first ones and evolved into the rich, beautiful but ultra-distant Universe we inhabit today!

So I’m happy to make another prediction. They’ll find another galaxy just as distant but larger than this small one and just as mature.

Sorry but none of those are actual values or constitute trends in data patterns or anything of the sort, they’re just your subjective characterizations of this one galaxy. You can’t extract a statistical trend from a sample of one. Incidentally the link you give shows that the trend towards smaller and bluer galaxies with distance actually holds for the Hubble data:

You wanna take bets on whether Webb is going to contradict that trend?

You understand the concept of a trend, right? I think you should also consider that bigger and more luminous galaxies are easier to see, so at a first glance even though bigger galaxies might be relatively rare compared to most other galaxies at similar ages and distances, the big ones are the ones you’re most likely to spot at a first glance.

This is the same problem with detecting planets around stars in our own galaxy, we know the discoveries are strongly biased by size and mass such that we mostly detect gas giants simply because they are easier to see both directly, and indirectly by their effects on their surroundings.

To my knowledge, size and clumpiness are not the best indicators of age. Instead, the metal content as measured by spectroscopy is a better indicator. Metals come from supernovas, and can be detected in second (and later) generations of stars. First generation stars are almost entirely former from hydrogen and helium. Without having seen any analysis, I would be willing to bet that all these young galaxies found by JWST have very low metal content.

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Even if that happens I don’t think it can be counted as anything more than a lucky guess. You really need to state the underlying hypothesis and show the implications.

The fact that we can see galaxies billions of lightyears away should make you question your YEC conclusions. We shouldn’t even be able to see anything outside of our little corner of the Milky Way if YEC is true.

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It’s a meaningless prediction since galaxies come in a range of sizes at every increment of distance and age. Galaxies immediately surrounding our own milky way are wildly varying in size too.

It is of no use to “predict” that another relatively large one will be found at a very large distance/age from now. The real question is what is the distribution of sizes/masses of galaxies at the most extreme ages and distances. The largest galaxies back then might have been near in size to average galaxies in close to present times, which would certainly count as large for their time, but the average galaxy size back then can be much much smaller.

What we need is a plot that shows the mean size of galaxies as a function of age, and whether Webbs observations are going to somehow contradict the currently expected trend. I’m going to predict that it won’t.

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I think a creationist hypothesis should basically yield a result where the age of the universe is unknowable by science. Not quite a steady state model - because we know the universe is expanding, but instead a hypothesis could be that the universe was initially uniform, then matured so quickly that a natural explanation that fits the rules of physics just isn’t available. My current hypothesis is that a primordial soup was created at the beginning, was then expanded, divided, and then “clumped” beginning on the 4th day.

Under a YEC hypothesis, light has to arrive at earth quite quickly, so if I understand the science here, redshift then only occurs because of the universe is expanding but not because light also takes so long to arrive. The hypothesis is that the galaxies won’t follow a pattern of growth as predicted by the Big Bang model and continued observations will eventually break the model.

What’s your definition of “all these”? If you mean all of the distant galaxies found behind the galaxy cluster in that picture, I would take that bet since there are dozens. :wink:

There is no one-way speed of light. So no.

I still like thinking about my negative energy dark matter time jump theory. Wormholes are fun. At least photons could cross them even if we can’t. :slightly_smiling_face:

Ok, sure. So I’m going to predict that it will. Thanks for helping me be more specific. I suppose though I have to track down that plot.

Nature has a good article on the trends being seen and addresses some issues raised in the thread. Four revelations from the Webb telescope about distant galaxies

With Webb just at the beginning of a planned 20-plus years of work, astronomers know they have a lot of changes ahead. “Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning,” Kirkpatrick says, “wondering if everything I’ve ever done is wrong.”

Sort of off-topic comment, but it has made me wonder for weeks now: Voyager 1 just happened to not know where it was in space not long after entering interstellar space…so is it glitchy, very old parts, or…something about interstellar space that confuses distance? I won’t make a prediction about that one because the parts are old. :slightly_smiling_face: But I had to write it down in case anything interesting happens with that too… We could probably only know if that happens to Voyager 2 at a similar distance. I haven’t looked if it could still give us data when it makes it that far.

“All these” meaning all JWST newly observed early universe galaxies as determined by red-shift, not closer, more recent “foreground” galaxies.I predict that nearly all the stars in these galaxies will be first generation stars with very low metal content. There will be a small amount of metals detected as a product of blue giant supernovae - Blue giants have a very short lifetime, millions of years rather than billions. Younger stars like our sun contain metals from these early supernovae.

If you insist, I suggest a wager of a Starbucks or Amazon gift card of no more than $20 value. :wink:

PS: My sister-in-law is an astronomer who studied star formation.