NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has given astronomers almost unmatched access to the secrets of our universe. It has given us a better understanding of the evolution of the early universe and how that has changed in the last several billions years. Now, Webb has also shed some light on one of the important sources of our early universe’s evolution.
The galaxies that we know and see today were not always how we see them. Formerly, some galaxies that we see today were alive and brimming with stars. Astronomers also say that the gas in the universe had a very different composition. It was more opaque, making it harder for energetic starlight to pierce through. We wouldn’t be able to view the world as clearly if we had looked at it during that time.
But clearly – no pun intended – something has changed over the past several billion years. When we look through Webb into the universe, we are able to see the galaxies and stars. So, what happened? According to new data gathered from James Webb, the early universe’s evolution to what we know today was driven by the heat from the stars that grew in those early galaxies.
According to new research from a team led by Simon Lilly of ETH Zurich in Switzerland, this period of reionization was a period of dramatic changes. Heat from brightening stars helped ionize the surrounding gas, resulting in the more clear gas that we see today. The researchers have been searching for an answer to this time when galaxies were more visible.
According to the new data gathered from Webb, as the stars heated the gas around them, the early universe evolved, with the end of the reionization period bringing some profound changes to how our universe looked, as the gas became less opaque and easier to see through. This period would have occurred over 13 billion years ago, NASA explains in a new report on the research.
To make this discovery, the researchers focused in on a quasar which is home to the most massive currently known black hole in the early universe. That black hole is estimated to weigh 10 billion times the mass of the Sun. While this black hole has its own mysteries, it seems to have helped astronomers get a better grasp of our the early universe’s evolution was driven.
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