Here at The Optimist Daily, we have been sharing every exciting step of the James Webb Telescope’s journey, from its long-awaited launch, to when it reached its final destination. Now the machine has delivered the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe yet!
Known as Webb’s “First Deep Field,” the image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 – as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago- is overflowing with impressive detail. The image contains thousands of galaxies, spread over our vast universe and this is only the tiniest snapshot! This small slice is described by NASA as covering “a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.”
How did the telescope produce such a detailed image?
Webb’s first color image took 12.5 hours to produce using a Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), where a collection of images at different wavelengths were compiled on top of each other. Here’s where it gets a little sciencey: the mass of the galaxy cluster also acted as a kind of lens to magnify the image even more. A clever trick the astronomers used to get even more detail in the photograph, using the laws of physics to their advantage.
This combination allowed for never-before-seen structures – such as star clusters and diffuse features – to be visualized in detail.
What’s next for Webb?
From this image, researchers will work on figuring out the galaxies’ masses, ages, histories, and compositions, with the goal of Webb’s to seek out some of the universe’s earliest galaxies. The telescope also has a list of upcoming zones to image, these include: the largest and brightest nebula in the sky called the Carina Nebula, the giant gas planet WASP-96 b, and the Southern Ring Nebula which is an expanding cloud of gas surrounding a dying star.