The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s finest observatory for space science. Webb will unravel mysteries in our solar system, observe distant worlds surrounding other stars, and investigate the universe’s intriguing origins, architecture, and our place within it. Webb is a NASA-led international effort in collaboration with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has produced the clearest and most precise infrared image of the distant universe to date. Webb’s First Deep Field is galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, which contains hundreds of galaxies, including the faintest infrared objects ever detected.
The image obtained by Webb is roughly the size of a sand grain held at arm’s length, representing a tiny piece of the vast universe. This galaxy cluster functions as a gravitational lens, magnifying distant galaxies, some of which were visible when the universe was less than a billion years old. This deep field, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), is a composite of photos at multiple wavelengths, spanning 12.5 hours – surpassing the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest fields, which required weeks. And this is just the start. Using Webb, scientists will continue to take longer exposures, revealing more of the enormous universe.
This image depicts the SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago, with many more galaxies in front of and behind it. As researchers delve further into Webb’s data, they will discover much more about this cluster. Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which observes mid-infrared light, also captured images of this field.
Webb’s NIRCam has brought distant galaxies into sharp focus, revealing phenomena such as star clusters and hazy characteristics that have never been seen before.
This galaxy’s light takes billions of years to reach us. When seeing the youngest galaxies in this area, we are peering back in time to approximately a billion years after the big bang. The expansion of the cosmos expanded the light to infrared wavelengths that Webb was meant to observe. Soon, scientists will discover more about the masses, ages, histories, and compositions of galaxies. The intense gravitational field of a galaxy cluster can bend and distort the light rays from more distant galaxies behind it, much like a magnifying glass.
The MIRI image from Webb provides a kaleidoscope of colors and indicates where the dust is — a crucial element for star formation and, ultimately, life. Blue galaxies contain stars, but relatively little dust. Using these data, researchers will be able to comprehend how galaxies begin, grow, and merge, and in some circumstances, why they cease creating stars entirely.
In addition to capturing photos, two of Webb’s equipment also collected spectra – data that reveals the physical and chemical features of objects, which will allow experts in this field to find a great deal more information about distant galaxies. Webb’s Near Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) micro shutter array observed 48 galaxies simultaneously, using novel technology for the first time in space, and returned a comprehensive set of information on each. The results revealed that light from one galaxy traveled for 13,1 billion years before being recorded by Webb’s mirrors. In addition, NIRSpec data highlight how detailed Webb observations will make galaxy spectra.
Finally, Webb’s Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) utilized Wide-Field Slitless Spectroscopy to simultaneously acquire spectra of all objects within the whole field of vision. It demonstrates that one of the galaxies is a mirror reflection of itself.
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, manages Webb on behalf of the agency and supervises mission work undertaken by the Space Telescope Science Institute. Several NASA centers, including Johnson Space Center in Houston, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, California, and others, contributed to the project.