Science

Webb’s first image reveals fine details of galaxies from billions of years ago

in great shape , Image of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, which is touted as Webb’s first deep field image.

NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI

More than three decades have passed and since NASA last built a multibillion-dollar space telescope and commissioned it into space, there has been much fanfare with the James Webb Space Telescope.

Unfortunately, the primary mirror of the Hubble Space Telescope was polished incorrectly. So when its first image came out in May 1990, the black-and-white result was overwhelming.

But the same thing can’t be said about Webb’s first image, which was revealed on Monday by US President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris during a White House event. “This telescope is one of humanity’s great engineering achievements,” Harris said just before sharing the photo.

She was right. The image (view full size here) shows the deepest and sharpest infrared view ever taken of the distant universe – and reveals just how vast the universe is. The area shown in this image is equal to the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by a person standing on the surface of the Earth. There are thousands of galaxies of incredible diversity in this tiny part of the universe alone.

The new photo shows the galaxy cluster known as SMACS 0723, an incredibly massive group of galaxies. Because of this supercluster, as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago, more distant objects in the background are magnified by the gravitational lensing effect.

From this image alone, astronomers can glean important information about the composition of these galaxies, and tease out other details, including their mass, age, composition, and more. The image shared Monday evening was a composite of images taken in different wavelengths over the course of a total of 12.5 hours.

Previously, the best “deep field” image of the universe was collected by the Hubble Space Telescope. In 2009, NASA released an ultra deep-field image after combining decades of photographs taken by Hubble. The image is the result of Hubble collecting faint light over several hours, allowing it to reveal the most distant observable galaxies at that time. There are about 5,500 galaxies in the image, and the faintest galaxies are ten-billionth of the brightness of what the human eye can see.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image released in 2009.
in great shape , Hubble Ultra Deep Field Image released in 2009.

NASA; ESA; Yes. Illingworth, d. Maggie, and P. osh; R. bowens

The universe is about 13.7 billion years old, and the Hubble image looked at about 13.2 billion years old, when most galaxies were small, expanding, and often colliding violently with each other. Webb must be able to look even further back to identify the oldest galaxies that formed in the universe.

NASA plans to release four additional images starting Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. ET (15:30 UTC). One of the highlights is expected to be the study of the composition of the atmosphere of nearby exoplanets.

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