The first image from the James Webb telescope shows the most distant galaxies

The first image from the James Webb telescope shows the most distant galaxies

Young galaxies that formed in the young universe more than 13 billion years ago wowed viewers when NASA released the first image from the James Webb Space Telescope on Monday night.

The picture shows a galaxy a cluster called SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago – around the time Earth formed – acting as a gravitational lens and magnifying the far more distant and older galaxies that appear behind it.

Bill Nelson, NASA administrator, revealed the image at a White House briefing with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. He said the oldest galaxies in the image could date back 300 million years to the birth of the universe 13.8 billion years ago.

A “deep-field” image covers a grain-of-sand-sized portion of the sky that someone on the ground holds within arm’s reach, Nelson said. It is a composite made of images at different infrared wavelengths over a 12-hour period.

NASA and its partner, the European Space Agency, will release four more early science observations from the $10 billion telescope on Tuesday.

One will involve the analysis of a planet orbiting a distant star. The spectrum of the giant gas planet Wasp-96b, which orbits a star 1,150 light-years away, will reveal the chemical composition of its atmosphere.

Astronomers hope the technique will eventually show which planets are likely to harbor life – for example through the presence of methane, oxygen and organic molecules – although the discovery of another inhabited world is not expected in the near future.

The other three observations will show: the Carina Nebula, a “stellar nursery” 7,600 light-years away; The Southern Ring Nebula, a giant expanding cloud of gas 2,000 light-years away; and Stephan’s Quintet, a compact group of five galaxies 290 million light-years from Earth.

The first image from the James Webb telescope shows the most distant galaxies

“These science images come from a five-day observation,” said Mark McCaughrean, Esa’s senior science advisor. “Think about what’s coming in the coming months and years.”

This week’s Webb images aren’t the first to be seen by the public — NASA released several “engineering images” from the telescope’s commissioning period last month — but they are the first full-color science images.

Webb’s images have false color added to show the observed wavelengths because they were taken in the infrared region, beyond the range of the human eye. In contrast, the Hubble Space Telescope, still operating after 32 years in orbit, observes visible light.

The first image from the James Webb telescope shows the most distant galaxies

A White House presentation with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris revealed the first image from the Webb Space Telescope on Monday night © NASA TV/AFP/Getty Images

After three decades of design and construction, plagued by delays and cost overruns, Webb had a perfect launch on the Ariane 5 rocket last Christmas.

The launcher guided Webb so precisely in the right direction to his destination, the “second Lagrange point” 1.5 million km from Earth, that the spacecraft had to use less fuel than expected for the final positioning, said Richard Ellis, professor of astrophysics at University College London. , who has been involved in the project since its early years. Therefore, it has more fuel to hold it in place during the mission.

“The accuracy of the launch extended the life expectancy of the telescope,” he said. “The original specification was five years with a goal of 10. Now Webb can easily achieve 10 years and maybe 15.”

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