Astronomers have found what appear to be massive galaxies dating back to within 600 million years of the Big Bang.
Researchers reported the findings on Wednesday in the journal Nature, highlighting the size and maturity of the apparent mega-galaxies.
While each of them seem to weigh billions of times more than our sun, they are believed to be extremely compact.
“While most galaxies in this era are still small and only gradually growing larger over time,” lead researcher Ivo Labbe of Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology said in an email to The Associated Press, “there are a few monsters that fast-track to maturity. Why this is the case or how this would work is unknown.”
Labbe and his team had expected to find baby galaxies this close to the dawn of the universe and initially thought their results couldn’t be real – and they still need to be confirmed.
“We were mind-blown, kind of incredulous,” he told the news agency.
The observations were among the first data set from the James Webb Space Telescope. The $10 billion observatory has the ability to peer through clouds of gas and dust using infrared imaging.
The team is still awaiting official confirmation through sensitive spectroscopy, and is careful to call these candidate massive galaxies for now.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.