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Astronomers find unexpected elements in ‘teenage’ galaxies

Published Nov 21st, 2023 9:23PM EST
lonely galaxy
Image: X-ray: NASA/CXC/Univ. of Torino/V. Missaglia et al.; Optical: NASA/ESA/STScI & International Gemini Observatory/NOIRLab/NSF/AURA; Infrared: NASA/ESA/STScI; Radio: NRAO/AUI/NSF

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Peering into the deep universe is like peering back through time. Distant galaxies appear as they did two to three billion years ago, and now, astronomers have detected heavier elements like nickel in “teenage” galaxies that existed within three billion years after the Big Bang.

These distant galaxies are all part of the ongoing conundrum that is our glimpse at the early universe. While researchers have tried to use the observations of these ancient galaxies to learn more about the universe’s evolution, they just keep finding more questions for themselves.

According to new observations led by a Northwestern University-led team of astrophysicists, data from the James Webb space telescope has revealed surprisingly high amounts of nickel in early “teenage” galaxies that existed two to three billion years after the Big Bang. On top of containing heavier elements, they appear to have been much hotter than expected.

James Webb capture of the Tarantula Nebula
James Webb has allowed us to look deeper than ever into our universe. Image source: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

The researchers looked at 33 distant galaxies across a continuous 30-hour period. The astronomers then combined wavelengths of light collected from 23 of the galaxies to create an intriguing composite picture that showcases the various average temperatures and elements that they believe could call those galaxies home.

Among the heavier elements found within the composite, astronomers believe these “teenage” galaxies were rich in nickel, an element that is rarely observed in any galaxies, including older, nearby galaxies. Additionally, astronomers say that these levels are still so high, even after multiple rounds of supernovas throughout the galaxies.

A paper on the discovery is available in the journal The Astrophysical Journal Letters, and it details the observations that the team made, as well as how they came to their conclusions. The composite also showed traces of hydrogen, helium, nitrogen, oxygen, silicon, sulfur, and argon. These lighter elements were expected, but astronomers say they were stunned to find nickel in such high quantities in these “teenage” galaxies.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.

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