After years of waiting, the first image from the James Webb Telescope was unveiled to the world on Monday, a spectacular snapshot showing galaxies that formed shortly after the Big Bang 13 billion years ago.
This first scientific and color image of James Webb marks a “historic” day, six months after the space telescope was launched into orbit, congratulating President Joe Biden during the White House event, the longest ever Most powerful designed.
NASA said the image was “the deepest and clearest infrared image ever taken of the distant universe.”
Light, having traveled such a path, extends from the visible spectrum to the infrared—a wavelength invisible to the human eye, but not to James Webb.
The purpose of the latter, for this shot showing the distant timeline of the Universe, the cluster of galaxies SMACS 0723, which acts as a magnifying glass, made it possible to reveal the very distant cosmic objects located behind it – An effect called gravitational lensing.
The image, which is loaded with detail, was taken over an observation time of 12.5 hours. It thus shows thousands of galaxies with some structures at their heart “never seen before”, according to NASA. So the research work is just starting. “Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the masses, ages, history and compositions of these galaxies,” the space agency said.
A $10 billion engineering gem, one of James Webb’s main missions is to trace the early ages of the universe. In astronomy, looking away is the equivalent of going back in time, the observed light has traveled for billions of years before reaching us.
“A new era for astronomy has begun”, commented AFP Jonathan Lunin, an astronomer at Cornell University, describing the image as “brilliant”.
“Although it cannot by any means see the farthest Webb, (…) it shows the power of this remarkable telescope: immense sensitivity, a wide range of wavelengths, and vivid image clarity. ‘Pictures,’ They said.
Continuation of images on Tuesday
Although the names of the first five cosmic targets of James Webb were announced last week, the images have so far been jealously guarded in order to create mystery.
The following photos of this original surprise bag will be revealed during an online NASA event Tuesday morning. Both should impress the general public with their beauty, but also showcase all the power of the four scientific instruments on board to astronomers around the world.
Experts will be able to begin interpreting the data collected using dedicated software, giving early indications for a great scientific adventure.
Two photos of the nebula – the very photogenic and giant clouds of gas and dust where stars form – are on Tuesday’s program: of the Carina Nebula, and of the Australian Ring.
Another target, Stephen’s Quintet, a cluster of galaxies that interact.
The first spectroscopy from the James Webb Telescope is also due to be made public on Tuesday. It is not an image, 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) are one of James Webb’s main areas of research. About 5,000 have been discovered since 1995, but they remain very mysterious.
The goal is to study their environments to determine whether some may have become worlds conducive to the development of life.
Thanks to his observations in the near- and mid-infrared, James Webb will be able to see through clouds of dust impenetrable to his predecessor, the legendary Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990 and still in operation, it has a small infrared capability but operates primarily in visible light and ultraviolet.
Other major differences between the two telescopes: James Webb’s main mirror is about three times larger than Hubble’s and develops much further: 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, compared with 600 km for Hubble.
The publication of these first images marks the official start of the telescope’s first cycle of scientific observation.
Several hundred observation projects proposed by researchers from around the world have already been selected by a committee of experts for the first year of operation.
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