President Biden helped show off the first released image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope on Monday afternoon and for space geeks, it’s an amazing step forward in our view of the universe, a reminder of how small our little part of it is, and yet confirmation that we’re part of something bigger than ourselves (yes, morning coffee philosophy here). From their press release (which will explain things better than I could):
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has produced the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date. Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, this image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is overflowing with detail.
Thousands of galaxies – including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared – have appeared in Webb’s view for the first time. This slice of the vast universe covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.
This deep field, taken by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), is a composite made from images at different wavelengths, totaling 12.5 hours – achieving depths at infrared wavelengths beyond the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest fields, which took weeks.
The image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago. The combined mass of this galaxy cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it. Webb’s NIRCam has brought those distant galaxies into sharp focus – they have tiny, faint structures that have never been seen before, including star clusters and diffuse features. Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the galaxies’ masses, ages, histories, and compositions, as Webb seeks the earliest galaxies in the universe.
The mind boggling part of this is that the image represents a picture of a tiny point in the sky and yet, every single one of those bring spots are galaxies filled with star systems, all as they looked billions of years ago. Mind blown!
Even better, you can download and peruse the detail of a high-resolution version of the image here. Computer, enhance!