JWST – A Cosmic Time Machine

Monday, August 14, 2023
by Nayanika

In mid-June, about 150 astronomers gathered at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for Eilers’ JWST “First Light” conference. Not quite a year had passed since JWST started sending images back to Earth. And just as Eilers had anticipated, the telescope was already reshaping astronomers’ understanding of the cosmos’s first billion years. Like a time machine, the telescope could see farther away and farther into the past than any previous instrument.

One set of enigmatic objects stood out in the myriad presentations. Some astronomers called them “hidden little monsters.” To others, they were “little red dots.” But whatever their name, the data was clear: When JWST stares at young galaxies — which appear as mere red specks in the darkness — it sees a surprising number with cyclones churning in their centers.

“There seems to be an abundant population of sources we didn’t know about,” said Eilers, an astronomer at MIT, “which we didn’t anticipate finding at all.”

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