NASA has released the long-awaited first photographs captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, the largest space telescope built to date, shedding new light on galaxy evolution and black holes.
Described as the “deepest, sharpest infrared” photograph of the universe, the first image from the telescope, which is several magnitudes more powerful than the Hubble Space Telescope, captures thousands of galaxies against the abyss of space.
The photograph of “Webb’s First Deep Field” is the first of its kind and part of a series intended to demonstrate the Webb telescope at its full power, which plans to take more photographs in the coming days and weeks.
As part of its mission to unfold the infrared universe in all its glory, the Webb telescope produced a photograph of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, which includes some of the fainted objects ever observed in the infrared spectrum.
“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,” NASA said in a statement.
“Most stars appear blue, and are sometimes as large as more distant galaxies that appear next to them,” NASA said. “A very bright star is just above and left of center. It has eight bright blue, long diffraction spikes. Between 4 o’clock and 6 o’clock in its spikes are several very bright galaxies. A group of three are in the middle, and two are closer to 4 o’clock. These galaxies are part of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, and they are warping the appearances of galaxies seen around them. Long orange arcs appear at left and right toward the center.”
The image produced by NASA is a composite of multiple different images captured at various wavelengths, taken by the telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). The images consist of more than 12 hours of continuous recording.
“The image showed various galaxies that shined around other galaxies whose light has been bent,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “If you held a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arms length, that is the part of the universe that you’re seeing. Just one little speck of the universe.”
Other images shared by the telescope include never-before-seen details of the galaxy group Stephan’s Quintet, which provides astronomers a “ringside seat to galactic mergers, interactions,” NASA said.
Stephan’s Quintet, a visual grouping of five galaxies, is best known for being prominently featured in the holiday classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Today, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope reveals Stephan’s Quintet in a new light. This enormous mosaic is Webb’s largest image to date, covering about one-fifth of the Moon’s diameter. It contains over 150 million pixels and is constructed from almost 1,000 separate image files. The information from Webb provides new insights into how galactic interactions may have driven galaxy evolution in the early universe.
With its powerful, infrared vision and extremely high spatial resolution, Webb shows never-before-seen details in this galaxy group. Sparkling clusters of millions of young stars and starburst regions of fresh star birth grace the image. Sweeping tails of gas, dust and stars are being pulled from several of the galaxies due to gravitational interactions. Most dramatically, Webb captures huge shock waves as one of the galaxies, NGC 7318B, smashes through the cluster.