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Here's Why People Are (Wrongly) Claiming JWST Images Disprove The Big Bang Theory

According to an article that's been going around, JWST has found stars older than the universe itself.

James Felton

James Felton

Senior Staff Writer

clockAug 24 2022, 17:28 UTC
Illustration of stars rushing by at speed.
The Big Bang theory is still safe. Image credit: Jurik Peter/Shutterstock.com

An article that claims images from the JWST have "disproven" the Big Bang theory has been circulating the Internet over the last few days, with just one small problem: that is pure nonsense.

JWST can see further back into the early days of the universe than any telescope before it. However, the article – titled simply "The Big Bang didn't happen" – claims that JWST's images have somehow "inspired panic among cosmologists" as they contradict the Big Bang theory. 

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"One paper’s title begins with the candid exclamation: 'Panic!'," the article reads. Clicking on the link to the paper, as astrophysicist Dr Becky Smethurst points out in a video shared on Twitter, reveals that the authors were making a Panic! At The Disco pun, in their paper titled Panic! At the Disks: First Rest-frame Optical Observations of Galaxy Structure.

Eric Lerner, the author of the article, goes on to quote another astronomer, Allison Kirkpatrick from the University of Kansas, as saying: "Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning wondering if everything I've done is wrong." She did indeed say it. In a Nature article, in awe of what astronomers have learned from the first JWST images, not as proof of astronomers panicking, as Lerner deliberately misconstrued it.

Kirkpatrick, who has since updated her Twitter handle to read "Allison the Big Bang happened Kirkpatrick", seems to be seeing the funny side. "A friend alerted me to this article, and now I can't stop getting emails applauding me for my bravery in acknowledging the Big Bang is wrong," she tweeted.

Kirkpatrick had been talking about various new bits of data that have already come in from the JWST, one being that galaxies have disks a lot earlier than we expected. While this may require theories on galaxy formation to be tweaked, it by no means overhauls the Big Bang theory, which Kirkpatrick was not referencing. 

In fact, Kirkpatrick suggests that images from JWST "support the Big Bang model because they show us that early galaxies were different than the galaxies we see today – they were much smaller!"

In one part of the article, Lerner appears to suggest that stars have been found that are older than the Big Bang theory would allow, and that as the JWST can see the color of distant galaxies, the red color of distant galaxies means that they contain very old stars.

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"According to Big Bang theory, the most distant galaxies in the JWST images are seen as they were only 400-500 million years after the origin of the universe," Lerner wrote. "Yet already some of the galaxies have shown stellar populations that are over a billion years old. Since nothing could have originated before the Big Bang, the existence of these galaxies demonstrates that the Big Bang did not occur."

Firstly, as Dr Brian Keating points out, "we have to first make sure that the calibration between redshift and distance is calibrated", as the expansion of the universe causes redshift.

Secondly, trust us as science communicaters whose job is to amplify cool science, if stars had been found that are even possibly older than the universe you would not be hearing about it through one man's blog alone (remember when scientists erroneously found that neutrinos were moving faster than light even though that clearly wasn't going to be the case?). For context, the JWST might have spotted a galaxy from between 420 million and 180 million years after the Big Bang and that was widely reported as a big deal – because it is!

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At most, the papers that Lerner cites suggest that we may have to rejig our theories on galaxy formation to account for how disks appeared so quickly. We do not have to throw out our best explanation of the creation of the universe just yet.


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