James Webb's first image reveals deep cosmos in spectacular detail
As an appetizer of things to come, NASA has released the first official image from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), revealing the deepest, high-resolution infrared picture yet of a sector of the universe 4.6 billion light years from Earth.
Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, the image was released today at the beginning of a briefing attended by US President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and NASA Administrator Bell Nelson. The image covers a patch of sky around the same size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length, and depicts the galaxy cluster SMACS0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago.
The image includes the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared, and is a composite made of images at different wavelengths gathered over a period of several weeks. The combined mass of the SMACS0723 galaxy cluster magnifies the more distant galaxies behind it, acting as a kind of gravitational lens.
It's a huge step forward from what the Hubble space telescope was able to deliver, as side-by-side comparisons from astronomers are beginning to illustrate:
The image taken by the JWST compared to one taken by Hubble, of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723.— Sophia Gad-Nasr (@Astropartigirl) July 11, 2022
It's s a gravitational lens, showing us the light of galaxies that are far behind the cluster in arcs around it. I tried to orient them the same. LOOK AT THE DIFFERENCE. pic.twitter.com/8jphIUHRjn
"The first preview of an image from JWST is as spectacular as we all hoped,” said Professor Matthew Colless, Director of the Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Australian National University. “A tiny part of the universe has been imaged more sharply than ever before, showing a myriad of galaxies whose light comes to us across billions of light years from the deep past. The most distant galaxies have their images magnified by a ‘gravitational lens’ produced by a massive cluster of galaxies in the foreground, in accord with Einstein’s theory of gravity.”
NASA is scheduled to give a full presentation tomorrow beginning at 9:45 am EDT, after which the images will be released to the public over the next few days.
“This is just a taste of what’s to come from this extraordinary telescope, the most powerful tool humanity has yet devised for peering into the universe,” said Colless. “As we look further out and in finer detail than ever before, I’m really excited to see what else JWST will find. I hope that, as in the past, the universe surprises us with beauty and novelty."