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FOR a $10 billion instrument, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) spends a lot of its time staring at nothing. The shots of deep space this produces are remarkably beautiful, transforming an apparently empty sky into a field flecked with thousands of distant galaxies, some seen as they were just a few hundred million years after the big bang.

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The first results of these surveys of the early universe have surprised astronomers, as the galaxies seem brighter than had been expected, with more star formation and larger black holes. Yet maybe we shouldn’t have been too startled to find…



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