The James Webb Telescope has released its first color photograph of the Universe. It shows galaxies formed more than 13 billion years ago. New images will be published on Tuesday.
Here is finally this long-awaited photo! The James Webb Telescope revealed, on Monday, July 11, 2022, a magnificent full color shot of the galaxies formed after the Big Bang, more than 13 billion years ago. This photo is “the deepest and clearest infrared image ever taken of the distant Universe so far,” explains NASA. The James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful ever designed, was launched six months ago.
The light, after traveling so far, extended from the visible spectrum to the infrared, a wavelength invisible to human eyes, but not to James Webb’s. For this shot illustrating the distant times of the cosmos, the telescope was pointed at the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 which, acting like a magnifying glass, also revealed very distant cosmic objects behind it, an effect called gravitational lensing.
It’s here: the sharpest, deepest infrared view of the universe to date: Webb’s first deep field.
preview by @POTUS on July 11, shows galaxies that were once invisible to us. the complete set of @NASAWebbThe first full-color images and data will be revealed on July 12: https://t.co/63zxpNDi4I pic.twitter.com/zAr7YoFZ8C
—NASA (@NASA) July 11, 2022
thousands of galaxies
The image, which is packed with detail, was taken over an observation time of 12.5 hours. It thus shows thousands of galaxies, in the heart of which certain structures “had never been seen before”, according to NASA.
Therefore, the research work is just beginning. “Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the masses, ages, histories, and compositions” of these galaxies, the space agency specifies. One of the main missions of James Webb is to explore the first ages of the Universe. In astronomy, seeing from afar is equivalent to going back in time, since the observed light has traveled billions of years before reaching us.
“A new era for astronomy has begun,” says Jonathan Lunine, an astronomer at Cornell University, calling the image “fantastic.” “Although it is by no means as far as Webb can see, … it shows the power of this remarkable telescope: enormous sensitivity, a wide range of wavelengths, and vivid ‘image’ clarity,” he added.
New images this Tuesday
Although the names of James Webb’s first five cosmic targets were announced last week, until now the images have been closely guarded to create suspense. The following images of this royal jackpot will be revealed during a NASA online event this Tuesday morning. Both must impress the general public with their beauty, but also demonstrate to astronomers around the world the full power of the four scientific instruments on board.
Experts will be able to start interpreting the data collected using dedicated software, kicking off a great scientific adventure. Two photos of nebulae -very photogenic and gigantic clouds of gas and dust where stars are formed- are on Tuesday’s program: the Carina Nebula, and the Austral Ring Nebula. Another target, Stephan’s Quintet, a group of interacting galaxies.
A gas giant planet
The first spectroscopy from the James Webb telescope will also be made public on Tuesday. This is not an image per se, but rather a technique used to determine the chemical composition of a distant object. In this case, WASP-96 b, a giant planet made mostly of gas and located outside our solar system.
Exoplanets (planets orbiting a star other than our Sun) are one of James Webb’s main areas of research. About 5,000 have been discovered since 1995, but they remain highly mysterious. The objective is to study their atmosphere to determine if some of them could be favorable worlds for the development of life.
Thanks to his observations in the near and mid-infrared, James Webb will be able to see through the impenetrable clouds of dust of his predecessor, the mythical Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990 and still in operation, it has a small infrared capability but works mainly in visible and ultraviolet light. Other important differences between the two telescopes: James Webb’s main mirror is almost three times larger than Hubble’s and evolves much further: 1.5 million km from Earth, compared to 600 km for Hubble.
James Webb was launched on Christmas 2021 from French Guiana by the Ariane 5 rocket. As a result of a great international collaboration, and in process since the 1990s, this engineering jewel located 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth cost about $10 billion.