James Webb telescope spots thousands of Milky Way lookalikes that 'shouldn't exist' swarming across the early universe

NASA's Webb Telescope’s time-travelling gaze has unveiled yet another cosmic rarity from the depths of the universe. 

In a surprising discovery, Webb has spotted thousands of galaxies that bear a striking resemblance to our own Milky Way!

With their elegant discs and delicate spiral arms, these Milky Way lookalikes were seen swarming through the universe more than ten billion years ago. 

This time frame makes it even more surprising, as the period corresponds to an era of violent galactic mergers, which would have made the existence of such delicate galaxies an astronomical rarity.

But shockingly, they have now been found to be ten times more prevalent in the early universe than previously believed!

Large disk galaxies like our Milky Way are one of the most common types of galaxies in today’s universe. 

But during the universe’s infancy, the earliest star clusters were thought to have evolved into dwarf galaxies.

These dwarf galaxies were cosmic cannibals thriving in a tumultuous era of galactic mergers which, over 10 billion years, supposedly led to the emergence of colossal galaxies like our own Milky Way.

In such a chaotic early universe, astronomers assumed that galaxies like ours would quickly lose their familiar form. But Webb’s observations hint at a cosmic soup we had thought most improbable, rewriting what we know of galactic evolution and formation so far.

Out of the 3,956 galaxies observed in its cosmic lookback, 1,672 were disk galaxies resembling the Milky Way, some of which existed when the universe was just a few billion years old. 

These observations are truly groundbreaking, as they push the timeline of these Milky Way-like galaxies’ formation to almost the beginning of the universe!

“These JWST results imply that most stars came into existence and took shape within these galaxies, which is changing our complete understanding of how galaxy formation occurs," noted study co-author Christopher Conselice.

Moreover, this discovery raises intriguing questions about when and how large galaxies, and by extension, the potential for life first blossomed in our universe. Considering our own existence lies in a disk galaxy like the Milky Way, both may have taken root much earlier than anticipated.

The study was published in The Astrophysical Journal and can be accessed here. This article was originally published in the Weather Channel.