Outer space has long made scientists, filmmakers, kids and adults everywhere wonder what else could be out there in the universe. And while we’re at it, just how big is that place anyway? Well, new research says that while the universe remains an unimaginably huge place, it may have just gotten a little smaller, metaphorically speaking.
To be specific, astronomers from the Michigan State University now believe that the number of distant galaxies that can be found in the universe is somewhere between 10 and 100 times smaller than previously believed. They reached this conclusion with the help of the Hubble Space Telescope, which allowed experts to take a good long look at the depths of the universe.
Brian O’Shea, associate professor specialized in physics and astronomy over at Michigan State University, gave a statement informing that “Our work suggests that there are far fewer faint galaxies than we once previously thought”.
He went on to add that early estimates say that the number of faint galaxies that can be found in the universe is hundreds, or even thousands of times bigger than just the few bright galaxies modern-day space scientists have actually been able to see using the Hubble Space Telescope. But now experts believe that the number is only ten times bigger.
For their study, published in the Astrophysical Journal Letters, professor O’Shea and his colleagues used the supercomputer at Blue Waters, the National Science Foundation, and ran a multitude of Renaissance Simulations, which are basically described as a series of high-resolution adaptive mesh refinement calculations that look at high redshift galaxy formation.
They also took into consideration the way galaxies would have interacted with one another due to gravity and radiation.
The results showed that the simulated galaxies confirmed the presence of the distant galaxies that astronomers have already observed with the Hubble Space Telescope at the end of the bright distribution. What the results didn’t show, however, was a sign that there is a growing number of these faint galaxies out into the universe.
Professor O’Shea shared that “Observations of high redshift galaxies provide poor constraints on the low-luminosity end of the galaxy luminosity function”. What this means is that it’s hard to accurately account for all the ionizing photons during that time.
These findings will be put to the test in late 2018, when the James Webb Space Telescope will finally come online. Astronomers are hoping to confirm the results of the simulations as scientists have admitted that the Hubble Space Telescope can only see what one might call “the tip of the iceberg” when it comes to distant galaxies. But the James Webb Space Telescope is expected to provide space experts with a much more detailed, in depth look at the universe.
Unfortunately, the 2018 telescope is not without flaws. It only has a fairly small field of view, which means that space scientists will have to take into consideration cosmic variance when documenting their observations.
O’Shea believes that experts will first need to have a deep understanding of theory in order to be able to interpret what they’re seeing correctly.
Image Source: nasa.gov