Human WorldSpace

1st Webb image: Farther, deeper, older light

Hundreds of small-to-tiny oblong glowing objects (galaxies) in a dark sky.
The James Webb Space Telescope captured a tiny slice of the vast universe for its 1st image. What you’re seeing is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length. This 1st Webb image needed just 12.5 hours of data-gathering. And it goes deeper than the Hubble deep fields, which took weeks! Image via Webb.

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.

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.

Webb: Large, gold hexagonal dish telescope made of hexagonal segments and an antenna in the middle.
View larger. | Here is the James Webb Space Telescope on March 5, 2020, before its launch. We got a sneak peak of the 1st Webb image on July 11, 2022. Image via NASA/ Chris Gunn.

The long road to L2

Timeline showing Webb launch, deployment stages, and path to L2.
View larger. | Here are some of the crucial steps that Webb accomplished on its journey to L2, which began following its December 25, 2021, launch. Webb arrived at L2 on January 24, 2022. It has spent the intervening months in a testing phase. Image via AURA/ Planetary Society.

Why L2?

Diagram: Sun, Earth, Earth's orbit, straight lines from Earth to points labeled L1 to L5.
View larger. | A body’s distance from the sun correlates with the speed it maintains to keep that distance. There are 5 points in the Earth-sun system where a spacecraft can move at such a speed that the craft stays put relative to the Earth and sun. These are the 5 Lagrange points, shown here. Webb is located at L2. Image via NASA.

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.

Via NBC News

July 11, 2022
Human World

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