Images from the James Webb Telescope Do Not Disprove The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang theory is currently the most popular model we have for the birth of our universe. Observations on the expanding universe, as well as observations of Cosmic background radiation, lingering electromagnetic radiation from the Big Bang, have helped back this theory. However, rumors have spread on the internet that the newly released images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) somehow suggest the big bang is wrong. We find this claim to be mostly false. Although the spectacular images from JWST may have surprised scientists in how they might change theories on galaxy formation, they by no means negate the Big Bang theory.

Much of the argument stems from an article written by Eric Lerner (author of the book “The Big Bang Never Happened”). Lerner’s article, published in IAI news, argues that the new James Webb Space Telescope images contradict The Big Bang Hypothesis. Lerner appears to suggest that the distant galaxies seen in the images are older than the Big Bang theory would allow since they seemed to resemble fully formed galaxies. However, the data from JWST suggest that galaxies form more quickly than we think, not that they necessarily contain elements from before the Big Bang or that the universe is not expanding. The observation of these well-formed galaxies at such an early time does not debunk a theory as well supported as the Big Bang. Lerner also cherrypicks quotes from astronomer Allison Kirkpatrick, who said in an article published in Nature, “Right now I find myself lying awake at three in the morning wondering if everything I’ve done is wrong.” Kirkpatrick has since explained that she was reacting in awe of what astronomers have learned from the first JWST images, not as proof of astronomers panicking that the Big Bang Theory has been debunked. In an article on CNET, 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!”

As reported by Brian Koberlein at Universe Today

It’s a common misconception that redshift proves that galaxies are speeding away from us. They aren’t. Distant galaxies aren’t speeding through space. Space itself is expanding, putting greater distance between us. It’s a subtle difference, but it means that galactic redshift is caused by cosmic expansion, not relative motion. It also means that distant galaxies appear a bit larger than they would in a static universe. They are distant and tiny, but the expansion of space gives the illusion of them being larger. As a result, the surface brightness of distant galaxies dims only proportional to redshift.

Professor Jason Steffen, a former NASA scientist who worked on the agency’s Kepler mission and an expert in astronomy/physics at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, responds to the article questioning the Big Bang Hypothesis.

In short, the evidence is still overwhelmingly in favor of a hot Big Bang as the origin of the universe.  There are many pieces of evidence that come together to motivate this model.  If the Big Bang were to be wrong, it would not likely be wrong for the reasons described, and it is not wrong because of any observations from JWST.

While the origins of the model stem from observations of the expansion of the universe from galaxy redshifts (the Hubble Law), most of the detailed evidence for the Big Bang comes from the very early universe, the relative abundances of light elements, and the properties of the cosmic microwave background.  The processes that made these occurred within the first half-million years after the Big Bang.  The JWST images are looking at galaxies as they were a half-billion (or more) years after the Big Bang—a factor of 1000 later in time. 

There is much more uncertainty with how galaxies form and how the first stars form, which are very complicated processes that involve lots of different physical effects, than there is about the first 500,000 years, which was a relatively simple hot plasma of Hydrogen and Helium ions.  (And before that, it was similar to the conditions in the core of the Sun, which we also understand.)