Earliest Strands of the Cosmic Web

Science Fields

Astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope have discovered a cluster of ancient galaxies that may represent the oldest strand of the “cosmic web” ever identified.

Stars and galaxies are not randomly and evenly distributed around the universe. They are gathered not only in clusters but also in large interconnected thread-like structures with huge gaps in between. This “cosmic web” of fine strands that formed in the early universe became more apparent over time as gravity brought matter together.

Using data from the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers have discovered a gigantic arm consisting of 10 closely packed galaxies stretching across 3 million light-years. The researchers think that this filament of gas and stars may be the oldest known strand of the cosmic web.

The structure, estimated to have formed just 830 million years after the Big Bang, is anchored by a bright quasar that has a supermassive black hole at its centre. The team believes that the strand will eventually transform into a massive cluster of galaxies, similar to the famous Coma Cluster in the nearby universe.

Researchers hypothesize that black holes help form the cosmic web by acting as gravitational centres that draw matter together and sometimes hurl it far away with “cosmic winds” swirling around highly active quasars.

This discovery comes from the ASPIRE project (A Spectroscopic Survey of Biased Halos in The Reionisation Era), the main purpose of which is to study the cosmic environments of the earliest black holes. The project’s goal is to observe the 25 quasars that formed in the first billion years after the Big Bang, known as the reionisation period.


  • 1. https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2023/nasa-s-webb-identifies-the-earliest-strands-of-the-cosmic-web
  • 2. https://www.livescience.com/space/cosmology/james-webb-telescope-detects-the-earliest-strand-in-the-cosmic-web-ever-seen