The most powerful telescope ever sent into orbit has provided NASA with its first view of distant galaxies as they were 13 billion years ago. This image has the potential to fundamentally alter our understanding of the universe’s creation.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) took clear pictures of SMACS 0723, a small part of the universe. These pictures show the light from several sparkling galaxies, some of which are among the oldest in the universe.
Bill Nelson, who runs NASA, said that the picture showed how the light from galaxies had been bending around other galaxies for billions of years before it got to the telescope.
“We are looking back more than 13 billion years,” he said, adding that more images to be released by the space agency would reach back further, to about 13.5 billion years, close to the estimated start point of the universe itself. “We are going back almost to the beginning,” he said.
NASA will show a collection of high-resolution color images from the JWST on Tuesday. The image is a sneak peek at some of those images.
According to Nelson, they will consist of “the deepest image of our universe that has ever been taken.”
Infrared photos from the telescope, which took three decades to build and was finally deployed this year, are expected to alter our knowledge of the cosmos.
The $10 billion telescope uses a series of lenses, filters, and prisms to pick up signals in the infrared spectrum, which are invisible to the human eye, to look inside the atmospheres of exoplanets and study some of the oldest galaxies in the universe.
Professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona Marcia Rieke says that the technology has “performed flawlessly” so far.
The telescope, a cooperative project of NASA and the European Orbit Agency, has been under development since the middle of the 1990s and was launched into space for the first time in December.
“Webb can see backwards in time just after the big bang by looking for galaxies that are so far away, the light has taken many billions of years to get from those galaxies to ourselves,” said Jonathan Gardner, deputy senior project scientist at Nasa, during a recent news conference. “Webb is bigger than Hubble so that it can see fainter galaxies that are further away.”
It is now operating roughly 1 million miles from Earth, fulfilling its duty of examining ancient galaxies, and is referred to as the most powerful telescope ever deployed into space.
The project’s first goal was to watch the first stars and galaxies form after the big bang.
As Eric Smith, Webb program scientist, put it, “the universe turns the lights on for the first time.”
“The whole observatory is performing stunningly well,” said Gillian Wright, director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre in Edinburgh, also principal investigator for the mid-infrared (Miri) instrument on JWST.
It’s hard to take in how fantastic it has turned out to be. It is utterly amazing. “
The Carina nebula, a type of celestial nursery where stars develop, is one of the five first cosmic objects listed for observation by NASA for JWST.
Around 7,600 light years away, the nebula is home to several huge stars that are many times as big as the sun.
Other areas of interest include Stephan’s quintet, which is notable for being the first compact galaxy group discovered in 1877; WASP-96 b, a giant planet outside of our solar system that is primarily made of gas; the southern ring nebula, an expanding cloud of gas surrounding a dying star that is 2,000 light years from Earth; and WASP-96 b. On Tuesday, NASA will release images of these targets.
President Biden showed off the first color image from the James Webb Space Telescope on Monday. It was a jaw-dropping “deep field” photo that captured the faint light of uncounted suns in thousands of never-before-seen galaxies, including arcs of light where their combined gravity magnified images of even more distant background galaxies.
“Today is a historic day,” Biden said at a White House ceremony. “It’s a new window into the history of our universe, and today we’re going to get a glimpse of the first light to shine through that window.”
“It’s astounding to me,” he continued. “Light where stars were born and where they die, light from the oldest galaxies, the oldest documented light in the history of the universe, from over 13 billion — let me say that again — over 13 billion years ago.”
The $10 billion observatory’s first public image, which was made to show off its astronomical skills and shed new light on how galaxies form, looks farther back in time and space than ever before, to within a few hundred million years of the moment the universe exploded into existence 13.8 billion years ago.
Kamala Harris, the vice president of the United States, said that the telescope should be seen as “one of humanity’s great engineering achievements.”
“It’s exhilarating to see the fantastic James Webb space telescope image released today,” said Richard Ellis, professor of astrophysics at University College London, who was part of the committee that first conceived the telescope.
“As we are ourselves made of the material synthesized in stars over the past 13 billion years, JWST has the unique ability to trace back to our own origins in this remarkable universe.” Everyone can take part in this amazing adventure. “
NASA intends to publish more “first light” pictures. Tuesday’s images were taken to demonstrate Webb’s capacity to chronicle the finer points of stellar development, from starbirth to supernova death; to research the formation, merger, and evolution of galaxies; and to examine the chemical makeup of planets’ atmospheres surrounding other stars.
In our own solar system, 7 percent of Webb’s observations during its first year of operation will be concentrated on planets, moons, and smaller things.
One of these is using spectroscopy to look at water plumes that seem to be coming from Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, in order to figure out the chemical make-up of what is thought to be an ocean below the surface that could support life.
The Hubble Space Telescope has emerged over the past 30 years as one of the most recognizable tools in the history of astronomy, assisting researchers in determining the age of the universe, confirming the existence of supermassive black holes, obtaining the most in-depth views of the cosmos ever obtained, and providing fly-by images of the moons and planets in the solar system.
With a 21.3-foot-wide segmented primary mirror that can pick up the faint light from when the first stars started to shine after the Big Bang, Webb, which works at just a few degrees above absolute zero behind a tennis-court-sized sunshade, promises to push the limits of human knowledge even further.
Since Hubble is designed to catch visible light, this light has been stretched into longer infrared wavelengths during the previous 13.8 billion years by the expansion of space itself.
The only method to examine the very early history of the cosmos is with infrared measurements, which are only possible with Webb’s mirror and sensors.
In 1995, the Hubble Space Telescope took its first “deep field” picture of a small area of the sky that seemed to be empty. This was one of the most amazing pictures it ever took.
The long-exposure picture showed more than 3,000 galaxies of all shapes, sizes, and ages, including some of the oldest and farthest ones ever seen. This surprised both experts and the general public.
Later, Hubble deep fields went much further back in time, spotting galaxies that were visible just 500 million years after the Big Bang.
It is still unknown how stars developed and swiftly coalesced into galaxy formations and how the supermassive black holes that reside at their centers evolved.
But the first Webb deep field data, which came out on Monday, has the potential to completely rewrite the history of astronomy by giving us the information we need to fill in many big gaps in what we know about how the universe began and how it changed over time.
It could even help us figure out when and how the first big stars formed, exploded, and spread the heavy elements needed for life throughout the universe.
“These images are going to remind the world that America can do big things, and remind the American people, especially our children, that there is nothing beyond our capacity,” Biden said Monday.
The Webb spacecraft, which was launched on Christmas Day, is currently positioned about a million miles from Earth in a gravitationally stable orbit.
Engineers and scientists have spent the last six months fine-tuning the telescope’s focus and getting the most out of its four research instruments by deploying, activating, and checking them out.
Klaus Pontoppidan, who works on the Webb project at the Space Telescope Research Institute, says that the first photographs, which were chosen by an international group of astronomers, will “show the world that Webb is ready for science and that it makes great and remarkable discoveries.”
“And it’s also to highlight the breadth, the sheer breadth of science that can be done with Webb and to highlight all of the four science instruments,” he added.
“And last but not least, to celebrate the beginning of normal science operations.”
“The first images will include observations that span the range of Webb’s science themes,” said Pontoppidan.
From the early universe, the deepest infrared view of the cosmos to date We will also see an example of how galaxies interact and grow, and how these cataclysmic collisions between galaxies drive the process of star formation. “
“We’ll see a couple of examples from the life cycle of stars, from when they are born, when Webb can show us new, young stars emerging from their birth cloud of gas and dust, to when they die, when, for example, a dying star sends out new elements and dust into the galaxy that could one day become part of new planetary systems.”
Last but not least, he added, the team will display the first chemical traces from an exoplanet’s atmosphere.
“This is really only the beginning; we’re only scratching the surface,” Pontoppidan said. “We have in the first images a few days’ worth of observations.” Looking forward, we have many years of observation, so we can only imagine what that will be. “
NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency worked together to create the James Webb Space Telescope.
The observatory, which is about the size of a tennis court, will be used to examine the first moments following the Big Bang and assist scientists in understanding how the current universe was formed.