The most exciting thing about science is when we find out we were wrong.

Space is so hot right now. The uncrewed Artemis I mission is on its way to lunar orbit, the first in a series of missions that plan to return humans to the moon by the end of the decade. A space walk in the The International Space Station fell this week and was broadcast live. Were throwing shit at asteroids to show that we can And our new friend, the James Webb Space Telescope, is just doing its thing, quietly revising our entire understanding of how the universe works.

The JWST is hovering a million miles from Earth and sending back images that make Hubble look like a real piece of shit. Understandably, the headline-grabbing images of Webb are the hallucinatory—photos that are particularly beautiful, or magnificent, and inspire awe. Webb is still taking many of those. But those more artistic images are, in a sense, the public relations telescope to justify their existence to the general public. Real science happens in the analysis of the least attractive data: things that aren’t even in the visible spectrum, or in the close analysis of relatively unspectacular photos. The big news yesterday comes from those everyday images.

Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, Tommaso Treu (UCLA); Image processing: Zolt G. Levay (STScI)

I realize I risk underestimating this, so: of course These images are spectacular, even if they are not Pillars of Creation. And what they show—namely, what is enlarged in Figure 2 at bottom center—is a brain-melting superlative. It’s the galaxy GLASS-z12, and it’s thought to be 13.45 billion years old, or just 350 million years after the universe was created in the Big Bang. It is the most distant starlight we have ever seen.

But it’s not the galaxy’s existence that scientists are so excited about: we already knew there would be galaxies from that time, and we knew the top images from JWST would reveal them. What was unexpected was how easy it was to find.

“Based on all the predictions, we thought we had to search a much larger volume of space to find these galaxies.” Castilian frame said of the National Institute of Astrophysics in Rome, who directed a of two research papers published Thursday in The letters of the astrophysical journal. Scientists had a model, based on current understanding, of how many of these bright, fully formed galaxies in the early days of the universe would be out there. That model predicted that it would take a slice of sky about 10 times larger than that captured by Webb to find them. Instead, Webb quickly surveyed two such galaxies, which scientists discovered within days of the data for their study being published.

What this implies is that our models were wrong and that bright, populated galaxies could have formed faster and more frequently after the end of the stellar dark ages, roughly 100 million years after the Big Bang, when conditions in the early universe finally allowed them to form. gravity began to build stars, than we ever imagined.

We were wrong! That’s so cool! Learning that we were wrong is, like, the whole literal point of science! Knowing that our models and predictions were inaccurate allows us to make new ones to better explain the observations, getting closer and closer to being right. Science is iterative, and these small discoveries, rather than the big flashy pictures, are how the JWST will help us write and rewrite the early history of our universe.

“These observations just make your head explode,” Paola Santini said, co-author of Castellano et al. paper. “This is a whole new chapter in astronomy. It’s like an archaeological dig, and suddenly you find a lost city or something you didn’t know about. It’s just amazing.”

These two new young galaxies are already providing some intriguing observations. That is, they are much brighter than we expected them to be, and brighter than anything we have closer to Earth. “Their extreme brightness is a real puzzle,” said Pascal Oesch, co-author of the second paper published today. But there is an attractive possibility. It is hypothesized that in the very early universe, stars would have been composed solely of hydrogen and helium, simply because they had not yet had time to produce heavier elements through nuclear fusion. Those so-called Population III stars would be incredibly hot and incredibly bright, and although they have long been theorized, they have never been observed. Until, perhaps, now.

This is, in every way, some hot shit. Thank you, Webb.

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