The James Webb Space Telescope’s First Image Shows a Beautiful Expanse of Galaxies
by Joel Hruska
The first official image from the James Webb Telescope was released today. It’s the deepest infrared view of the universe that we’ve ever taken, and yet according to NASA, the area depicted in the shot is equivalent to the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by a person on Earth. We’ve excerpted part of the image for our feature above, but you can view the uncropped version below.
This is SMACS 0723, a galaxy cluster. After digging around a bit online, I’ve found what appears to be a photo of the same cluster shot with the Hubble Space Telescope. Look just to the right and slightly up from the central bright spot and you’ll see a distinctive-looking pair of galaxies with a bit of smeared orange line between them. The same formation appears in both images.
The second image was last updated in 2017, so it clearly predates the JWST. It also highlights how much better the JWST is by comparison. The James Webb Space Telescope’s shot was taken by the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCAM) and represents a composite of images captured at different wavelengths over a 12.5 hour exposure period. Some of the distortion in the image is caused by gravitational lensing, but the unusual six-pointed star is created by the shape of the JWST’s mirrors. We’re seeing SMACS 0723 as it existed 4.8 billion years ago, and NASA reports that it’s seeing new details in the galaxy cluster that it never observed before, including “star clusters and diffuse features.”
Astronomers are… well, “over the moon” seems like it might be in poor taste. Giddy, I suppose, would be the word. They aren’t the only ones. NASA has launched a lot of telescopes over the past 40 years, but only a handful of these have broken through enough to be considered household names, and most of these have since…