- In the month since the James Webb Space Telescope released its first image, it has captured a whole new view of the universe.
- The $10 billion space telescope launched in December 2021 and reached a destination beyond lunar orbit in January.
- Webb’s ability to penetrate cosmic dust has given astronomers a deeper understanding of the past than ever before.
The James Webb Space Telescope has been fully operational for only a month, but in that time it has allowed astronomers to peer into the universe in unprecedented ways and changed the way we see it.
Webb, often described as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, launched on December 25, 2021, after more than two decades of development. Since then, the $10 billion telescope has flown more than a million miles from Earth and is now stationed in a gravitationally stable orbit collecting infrared light. By collecting infrared light invisible to the human eye, Webb was able to penetrate cosmic dust and see into the distant past, down to the first 400 million years after the Big Bang.
Since the telescope released its first images in July, it has been providing researchers with observations of distant cosmic objects. For astronomers, these pictures are just the beginning.
Check out some of the most stunning images shared from the telescope’s first month of observations.
The first glimpses Webb could capture were “deep-field” images — long-exposure observations of regions of the sky that allow the telescope to pick up the light of extremely faint, distant objects.
NASA Administrator Bill Nielsen told President Joe Biden at a White House briefing on July 11 that if you took a grain of sand to arm’s length, it would represent the cosmic speck you see in this image .
Because light takes time to travel, some of the light in the new image is more than 13 billion years old. That was less than a billion years after the Big Bang.
For this deep-field image, Webb pointed his powerful infrared camera at SMACS 0723, a massive galaxy cluster that acts as a magnifying glass for objects behind them. Light bars are galaxies elongated by SMACS 0723’s powerful gravity, a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.
The photo was reportedly taken in less than a day NASA.
One of the main goals of the new telescope is to find galaxies so distant that their light travels almost the entire history of the universe to reach Webb. NASA says Webb is able to observe farther away than other telescopes, such as Hubble, and discover galaxies as far back as the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang.
Astronomers have discovered one of the most distant galaxies we’ve ever seen.
In a study posted to the preprint service Arxiv on July 25, researchers observed a galaxy called CEERS-93316, which they believe appeared 235 million years after the Big Bang, making it the largest galaxy ever observed. the oldest galaxy.
Also in July, astronomers discovered another distant, spinning collection of stars, gas and dust bound together by gravity. The galaxy, known as GLASS-z13, is 13.5 billion years old, dating back 300 million years after the Big Bang.
To confirm the ages of the two galaxies, the researchers need to make follow-up spectroscopic observations.
In August, the Webb telescope captured a snapshot of the Wheel galaxy in greater detail than ever before.
Located 500 million light-years away in the Sculptor constellation, the Wheel Galaxy is a rare ring galaxy that formed after a large spiral galaxy collided with a smaller one, giving it the appearance of a wagon wheel. It has two rings—a bright inner ring and a colored outer ring that ripples outward from the middle of the collision.
For about 440 million years, the outer ring has been expanding from the collision center. Stars are formed when it expands and hits the surrounding gas.
In the photo above, pockets of star formation appear as blue dots in red dust swirls. In the image above, Webb captured two other galaxies to the left of the Wheel galaxy.
NASA said in an Aug. 2 press release that the Wheel galaxy “may have been a normal galaxy like the Milky Way before the collision” and that shape and structure will continue to change in the future.
The space agency says the new images reveal details about star formation and the black holes at the centers of galaxies, and reveal how galaxies have evolved over billions of years.
While the space telescope’s infrared gaze allows astronomers to look across staggering cosmic distances, it can also photograph closer, more familiar objects. In July, NASA released a new series of Webb images showing Jupiter in stunning detail.
In addition to the gas giant, there are its moons Europa, Thebe and Metis. Scientists believe Europa has a saltwater ocean, and deep within its thick icy shell, alien life may exist.
Astronomers also hope that the Webb telescope will reveal whether distant worlds have atmospheres that could support life.
“With the James Webb Space Telescope, we can explore the chemistry of other worlds’ atmospheres — if there’s any sign of it, we can only explain it in terms of life,” said Lisa Kaltenger, professor of astronomy at Cornell University and director of the center. Kaltenegger) Carl Sagan Institute, previously told Insider.
Webb’s first year plans to study 70 planets. As part of the first observations, Webb captured signatures of water in the atmosphere of WASP-96 b, as well as previously unseen evidence of clouds and haze — a giant, hot-gas planet orbiting a planet like ours Distant stars like the sun orbit.
“This is an amazing time for us to explore the universe,” Kaltenegger said, adding, “Are we alone? This amazing space telescope is the first ever to collect enough light for us to begin solving this fundamental tools of the problem.”