The first image from the James Webb Space Telescope
Tonight, NASA released the first full-color image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope. The incredibly detailed photo demonstrates the telescope’s capabilities and marks the transition to a new era of deep space exploration.
The image is one of the first few full-color images that NASA plans to release this week to celebrate the start of the science mission of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). US President Joe Biden and NASA Administrator Bill Nelson released the first image today during a special briefing at the White House, writes The Verge.
“Mr. President, if you held a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arm’s length, that is the part of the Universe that you’re seeing,” Nelson said during the briefing. “Just one little speck of the Universe.”
As today’s amazing image shows, the Webb Telescope promises to revolutionize astrophysics as we know it. With the largest mirror ever sent into space, JWST allows us to peer deep into the universe’s past, gathering light from some of the stars and galaxies that formed immediately after the Big Bang.
Today’s image is a great example of what the telescope is capable of. It shows a region of the sky known as SMACS 0723, filled with massive galaxy clusters 4.6 billion light-years away that actually bend space and time around them, revealing an extraordinarily deep view of the space.
SMACS 0723 shows a region of the sky with massive galaxy clusters in the foreground of the image—so massive, in fact, that they actually bend space and time around them. The result is a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, where warped space-time acts a bit like a magnifying glass, expanding our view of even more distant galaxies beyond the clusters. There are thousands of galaxies in this image alone, and according to Nelson, the light from some took 13 billion years to reach the telescope mirror.
“That light that you’re seeing on one of those little specks has been traveling for over 13 billion years,” Nelson said, referring to the tiny galaxies in the image.
SMACS 0723 has been imaged by space telescopes before, but thanks to Webb’s power and precision, this region can now be seen in incredible detail. This image has bright colors, the hues have been manually filled in, as the original image was taken in infrared light.
You can compare the Webb and Hubble images of SMACS 0723, the difference is really striking:
Unlike its predecessor, Hubble, Webb observes light in the infrared part of the spectrum, a type of light that is invisible to the naked eye but is associated with heat. That’s why the mirror segments of the space telescope are coated with gold: to better capture infrared light waves. This kind of light is especially important for observing the distant universe because the light from the oldest stars and galaxies stretches as it crosses through deep space, thanks to our ever-expanding space. By the time it reaches Earth, the light has stretched into the infrared part of the spectrum.
The Webb image released by NASA is technically composite. It combines images made up of several wavelengths of light that the space telescope collected over 12.5 hours. According to NASA, it took weeks for Hubble to produce some of the deepest images of the universe ever taken.
This photo is just a teaser. NASA will release the rest of the images today at 5:30 p.m. Kyiv time during a scheduled press conference. Images should include exceptional photos of nebulas, galaxies, and the breakdown of light in the atmosphere of a planet outside our Solar System.