1st Webb image released Monday
The image above and below is the long-awaited first science image from the James Webb Space Telescope. It was released today (Monday, July 11, 2022), at a special presentation at the White House. The image shows a galaxy cluster called SMACS 0723 (fuzzy object, center of photo), 4.6 billion light-years away. The massive cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it and so bringing them into view. Thousands of galaxies appear in Webb’s first image, which is being called Webb’s 1st Deep Field.
I had to make a before and after to really appreciate how good the James Webb Telescope really is. pic.twitter.com/dj0HL8XGaZ
— Jason Short (@jason4short) July 11, 2022
This image is the deepest view of the universe yet … the farthest back in time we’ve ever looked … toward the oldest light we’ve ever seen. It shows galaxies as they appeared up to 13 billion years in the past, not long after the Big Bang that gave birth to our universe. That’s why astronomer Chiara Mingarelli (@Dr_CMingarelli on Twitter) commented:
The light [seen in this image] is about 13 billion years old!! The universe is only 13.8 billion years old. This is amazing.
Tomorrow – Tuesday, July 12 – NASA and its Webb partners (the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency) will release four more new Webb images. Click here for a schedule of events and a livestream..
Monday’s image: SMACS 0723
SMACS 0723 is a huge cluster of galaxies with a powerful gravitational pull. And so this galaxy cluster is known to act as what’s called a gravitational lens. That means its gravity is so strong that it warps the space around itself. Like a magnifying glass, it makes objects located behind it look bigger and cleaer. Behind it, in this case, means farther away. And farther away means older.
And so the light revealed by SMACS shows astronomers what existed shortly after the universe was born in the Big Bang.
What will we ultimately see with an instrument as powerful as the Webb? Will we finally glimpse the elusive light from the first stars ever to exist in our universe?
Time will tell!
A dream come true
The Hubble Space Telescope was launched in 1990. And it wasn’t too many years later that astronomers began talking about and dreaming about building a new telescope in space. In 1996, a committee of astronomers recommended building a giant space telescope, sensitive in thee infrared part of the spactrum … a telescope like the James Webb Space Telescope.
But, as the years went by, the telescope was troubled by delays and cost overruns.
Webb finally launched on December 25, 2021. It spent a month performing critical engineering feats – unfolding to reveal the 18 hexagonal segments of its 21-foot (6.5-meter) mirror – while traveling to the L2 point in the Earth-sun system.
It arrived at L2 on January 24, 2022. And that’s where Webb is now, orbiting the sun but staying fixed relative to Earth, some four times the moon’s distance from Earth.
Following the release of the first images on Tuesday, July 12, astronomers will begin in earnest, aiming Webb outward toward the universe. They expect the $10 billion space observatory to provide astounding new insights about our cosmos.
The long road to L2
Bottom line: The official release date for the first Webb Space Telescope images is Tuesday, July 12, 2022. But U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled the first Webb image – the deepest view of the universe we’ve ever seen – on Monday, July 11.