Astronomers at the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) have discovered six massive “Universe breaker” galaxies that existed just 500 to 700 million years after the Big Bang. These galaxies, larger than any galaxies that we have known, grew at a much faster rate than we thought possible, disrupting our old notions of how galaxies are formed and evolve, and forces us to ask new questions about the universe’s early history. 

Until the Big Bang, there was neither time nor space, merely nothingness. The Big Bang was the event that gave birth to time and space, light and matter. The early history of our universe was defined by heat, density, and turbulence, and objects that could not now be formed. In order to bridge the gulf between our knowledge and what happened then, this study proposed to find the universe’s first luminous objects. 

JWST is the world’s most powerful space telescope, and its infrared vision allows us to peer through the dust and gas to see deep into space, to red galaxies so far away that we observe them as they were in the first 750 million years of cosmic history. The reason that JWST chose to look for galaxies rather than stars is simply because the astronomers figured that JWST was not sensitive enough to detect stars. In this instance, we are seeing what these universities looked like 500 to 700 million years after the Big Bang. Using our standard models, scientists had clear parameters for what they expected to see, and they did not expect to see galaxies based on current cosmological theories and certainly not at the size they were. 

They expected that these young galaxies would be small, and yet, what they observed was six massive galaxies (which is to say, galaxies with a stellar mass of over 1010 solar masses) with masses similar to the Milky Way galaxy, with one galaxy having a possible stellar mass of around 1011 solar masses. Assuming verification through spectroscopy, the stellar mass density of these massive galaxies will be higher than any in prior studies. This discovery is a shot at the bow of current theory, with these galaxies 100 times larger than theory had predicted. 

Scientists conduct experiments to verify ideas, but they are always open to the possibility that their theories can be falsified. Indeed, philosopher of science, Karl Popper often spoke about science being about “provisional truths”. This is the power of science. Joel Leja of the Pennsylvania State University, an astronomer who participated in the study, advised scientists to have an open mind about the results of this study. These findings are, after all, staggering, not simply because the stellar masses are so large, but because they suggest that galaxy formation started so early. This is a reminder that there is no such thing as “settled science”. All scientific truths are partial and provisional truths, open to revision at any moment.

The JWST evidence suggests that galaxies were formed much earlier than we first believed, which calls into question just when galaxy-formation began. Interestingly, these galaxies possessed as many stars as the Milky Way galaxy, even though these are early galaxies, and the Milky Way has evolved over 14 billion years, the entire cosmic history. The uniqueness of these galaxies is why these scientists have called them “Universe breakers”, because they truly shatter current theories that galaxies are formed over billions of years. Those who are intrigued should find out how to become an NDIS provider.