The first image from the James Webb Space Telescope revealed on July 11, 2022 by NASA shows a galaxy cluster (NASA/published)
It’s finally here: After years of waiting, the first image from the James Webb Telescope was revealed to the world on Monday, a grandiose shot showing galaxies that formed after the Big Bang, more than 13 billion years ago.
This first scientific and color image of James Webb represents a “historic” day President Joe Biden was greeted during the event at the White House, six months after he was placed in orbit for this space telescope, the most powerful telescope ever built.
NASA said this image is “the deepest and clearest infrared image of the distant universe ever taken.”
Light, having traveled such a path, extended from the visible to the infrared spectrum, a wavelength invisible to the human eye, but not to the eyes of James Webb.
The final target, in this snapshot of the distant times of the universe, was the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 acting as a magnifying lens, which also made it possible to detect very distant cosmic objects lying behind them, an effect called a gravitational lensing.
The image, which is full of detail, was captured during an observation time of 12.5 hours. Thus appear thousands of galaxies, at their cores “never seen by certain structures,” according to NASA. So the research work is just the beginning. “Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the masses, ages, history and composition of these galaxies,” the space agency added.
A $10 billion engineering gem, one of James Webb’s primary missions is to explore the early ages of the universe. In astronomy, seeing far is equivalent to going back in time, as the observed light has traveled for billions of years before reaching us.
“A new era in astronomy has begun,” Jonathan Lunin, an astronomer at Cornell University, told AFP, describing the image as “fantastic.”
He added: “Although it is by no means as far as Webb could see, (…) it shows the power of this remarkable telescope: tremendous sensitivity, a wide range of wavelengths, and vivid ‘image’ clarity.”
– Pictures continue on Tuesday –
US President Joe Biden during the launch of the first image from the James Webb Space Telescope on July 11, 2022 at the White House in Washington (AFP/Nicolas Cam)
Although the names of James Webb’s top five cosmic targets were announced last week, so far the images have been jealously guarded for suspense.
The following images of this real surprise bag will be revealed during a NASA online event on Tuesday morning. Both should impress the public with their beauty, but should also demonstrate to astronomers around the world all the power of the four scientific instruments on board.
Experts will be able to begin to interpret the data collected using dedicated software, giving the go-ahead for a great science adventure.
Two images of nebulae, huge clouds of gas and dust, where stars are forming, are in the program for Tuesday: the Carina Nebula, and the Southern Ring Nebula.
Characteristics of the James Webb Telescope, which succeeded Hubble (AFP /)
Another target, Stephan’s Quintet, is a group of galaxies interacting with each other.
– Other worlds –
The first spectroscopic analysis from the James Webb Telescope is also scheduled to be published on Tuesday. This is not an image per se, but a technique used to determine the chemical composition of a distant object. In this case, WASP-96 b, a giant planet composed primarily of gas and located outside our solar system.
Exoplanets (planets orbiting a star other than our sun) is one of James Webb’s main areas of research. About 5,000 have been discovered since 1995, but they are still very mysterious.
The goal is to study their atmosphere to determine if some can turn into worlds favorable for the development of life.
Artist’s impression of the James Webb Telescope in space, set to provide its first science and color images on Tuesday (NASA/Publication)
Thanks to his observations in the near and medium infrared, James Webb will be able to see through the impenetrable dust clouds of his predecessor, the legendary Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990 and still in operation, it has a small infrared capability but works primarily in visible and ultraviolet light.
Other big differences between the two telescopes: James Webb’s main mirror is almost three times larger than the Hubble mirror and far more evolving: 1.5 million km from Earth, as opposed to 600 km from the Hubble mirror.
The publication of these first images marks the official start of the telescope’s first cycle of scientific observation.
Several hundred monitoring projects, proposed by researchers from all over the world, have already been selected by a panel of specialists for this first year of operation.