Article image

Galaxies like our own Milky Way are not unique

A recent study has shone a new light on our understanding of the universe, revealing that Milky Way-like galaxies are not as rare as previously thought. In fact, they are are surprisingly common, reshaping notions surrounding galaxy formation and evolution.

The study involved an international team of researchers, including prominent scientists from the University of Manchester and the University of Victoria in Canada, utilizing the advanced James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).

Shift in cosmic perspectives

The conventional wisdom was that galaxies resembling our Milky Way were scarce due to their delicate nature. The use of the Hubble Space Telescope had led scientists to think that disc galaxies scarcely existed until the universe was approximately six billion years old.

However, the findings from the new study, published in the Astrophysical Journal, reveal that such galaxies were ten times more prevalent and have existed much longer, forming around 10 billion years ago or even earlier.

Professor Christopher Conselice, a Professor of Extragalactic Astronomy at the University of Manchester, noted, “These JWST results show that disk galaxies like our own Milky Way are the most common type of galaxy in the Universe. This implies that most stars exist and form within these galaxies which is changing our complete understanding of how galaxy formation occurs.”

Pioneering discoveries with Webb

The JWST has played a pivotal role in these discoveries, illustrating its unparalleled ability to uncover details about galaxies’ structures far earlier in the universe than scientists had anticipated.

Lead author Leonardo Ferreira from the University of Victoria commented on the instrumental role of the JWST, saying, “The fact that JWST finds so many [disc galaxies] is another sign of the power of this instrument.”

Debunking the fragility myth

The longevity and commonality of Milky Way-like galaxies dispel previous notions about their rarity stemming from their fragile nature and supposed susceptibility to the violent encounters that galaxies frequently undergo.

The newfound abundance of these galaxies is compelling evidence that these entities form much earlier in the Universe than researchers had estimated.

Rewriting galactic understanding

These revelations raise fundamental questions about the formation of the first galaxies and the evolution of galaxy over the last 10 billion years, necessitating a comprehensive reevaluation of our understanding of the universe.

Professor Conselice stressed the significance of these findings, stating, “Based on our results astronomers must rethink our understanding of the formation of the first galaxies and how galaxy evolution occurred over the past 10 billion years.”

Moreover, the results imply profound implications for our understanding of dark matter in the early universe, about which little is currently known. The fact that the majority of stars exist and form within these common disk galaxies is reshaping the entire scientific perspective on galaxy formation and dark matter, propelling forward our comprehension of cosmological phenomena.

Implications and next steps

These findings open up a realm of new questions and doubts regarding the universe’s evolution and galaxy formation, obliging scientists to reconsider existing theories and models. The advanced insights provided by the JWST will continue to be crucial in answering these emerging questions and refining our knowledge of the cosmos.

The discovery of the abundance of Milky Way-like galaxies marks a transformative moment in astronomy and cosmology, offering new pathways for exploring the complexities of the universe and prompting renewed curiosity and fascination with the mysteries of the cosmos.

The continued exploration and research into galaxies and the universe will undoubtedly unravel more secrets and deepen our understanding of our place in the cosmos.

Like what you read? Subscribe to our newsletter for engaging articles, exclusive content, and the latest updates.

Check us out on EarthSnap, a free app brought to you by Eric Ralls and

News coming your way
The biggest news about our planet delivered to you each day