Article image

Mysterious 'tiny red spots' discovered in space

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has discovered a cosmic enigma that’s shaking up our understanding of the early universe. This finding, called “Tiny Red Spots,” is forcing scientists to reconsider their long-held theories about how galaxies form.

Tiny red spots

Researchers at Penn State have discovered three very peculiar objects dating back to around 600-800 million years after the Big Bang. These entities, dubbed “Tiny Red Spots,” are a phenomenon unlike any seen before.

“We have confirmed that these appear to be packed with ancient stars – hundreds of millions of years old – in a universe that is only 600-800 million years old. Remarkably, these objects hold the record for the earliest signatures of old starlight,” said Bingjie Wang, a postdoctoral scholar at Penn State and lead author on the paper.

“It was totally unexpected to find old stars in a very young universe. The standard models of cosmology and galaxy formation have been incredibly successful, yet, these luminous objects do not quite fit comfortably into those theories.”

Rethinking traditional views

These galaxies hold stars that are hundreds of millions of years old, within a universe that is merely 5% of its present age. It’s akin to finding a 90-year-old individual in a realm where the eldest person should be 18. This uncovering disrupts our existing models of galaxy creation and development.

“It’s very confusing,” said Joel Leja, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Penn State and co-author on both papers.

“You can make this uncomfortably fit in our current model of the universe, but only if we evoke some exotic, insanely rapid formation at the beginning of time. This is, without a doubt, the most peculiar and interesting set of objects I’ve seen in my career.”

Supermassive black holes in tiny red spots

These galaxies also contain supermassive black holes that surpass the anticipated sizes for this cosmic epoch. We’re looking at black holes that are 100 to 1,000 times more massive than the one in our Milky Way.

“Normally supermassive black holes are paired with galaxies,” Leja said. “They grow up together and go through all their major life experiences together.”

“But here, we have a fully formed adult black hole living inside of what should be a baby galaxy. That doesn’t really make sense, because these things should grow together, or at least that’s what we thought.”

Cosmic compactness

These galaxies are incredibly dense, measuring only a few hundred light-years in diameter. For a better grasp, they are roughly 1,000 times smaller than our Milky Way, yet they accommodate about the same number of stars – ranging from 10 billion to 1 trillion.

“These early galaxies would be so dense with stars – stars that must have formed in a way we’ve never seen, under conditions we would never expect during a period in which we’d never expect to see them,” Leja said.

“And for whatever reason, the universe stopped making objects like these after just a couple of billion years. They are unique to the early universe.”

Pursuit of solutions

The researchers plan to conduct further observations to collect more data and hopefully shed some light on the Tiny Red Spots.

By focusing the telescope on the entities for extended periods, they aim to obtain more profound spectra, potentially assisting in distinguishing the light sources between stars and conceivable supermassive black holes.

Nevertheless, breakthroughs in science often emerge from unexpected avenues. “There’s another way that we could have a breakthrough, and that’s just the right idea,” Leja said.

“We have all these puzzle pieces and they only fit if we ignore the fact that some of them are breaking. This problem is amenable to a stroke of genius that has so far eluded us, all of our collaborators and the entire scientific community.”

Reformulating the laws of the cosmos

This discovery serves as a reminder that the universe is full of surprises, and our knowledge continually evolves.

These ancient, dense galaxies with their aged stars and outsized black holes challenge our established models of galaxy birth and progression. They act as cosmic time capsules, retaining details about the earliest epochs of our universe’s narrative.

As we push forward into the cosmos aided by powerful tools like the James Webb Space Telescope, we are destined to uncover more mysteries that expand our horizons of knowledge.

For now, scientists will continue pondering over these tiny red spots, endeavoring to comprehend their role in the grand cosmic chronicle. And for the rest of us, we can gaze in awe at the marvels of the universe and applaud the devotion of researchers striving to decode its enigmas.


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