NASA has released the full set of the first full-color images and spectroscopic data today (July 12) from the James Webb Space Telescope, together with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
The first image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date.
Thousands of galaxies – including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared – have appeared in Webb’s view for the first time in a slice of the vast universe that “covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground,” NASA said.
Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, the first image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is a composite made from images at different wavelengths, totaling 12.5 hours — achieving depths at infrared wavelengths beyond the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest fields, which took weeks.
The image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago, according to NASA.
The combined mass of this galaxy cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it.
Webb’s NIRCam has brought those distant galaxies into sharp focus – they have tiny, faint structures that have never been seen before, including star clusters and diffuse features.
Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the galaxies’ masses, ages, histories, and compositions, as Webb seeks the earliest galaxies in the universe.
As the largest and most complex observatory ever launched into space, Webb has been going through a six-month period of preparation before it can begin science work, calibrating its instruments to its space environment and aligning its mirrors.
This careful process, not to mention years of new technology development and mission planning, has built up to the first images and data: a demonstration of Webb at its full power, ready to begin its science mission and unfold the infrared universe.
“As we near the end of preparing the observatory for science, we are on the precipice of an incredibly exciting period of discovery about our universe, said Eric Smith, Webb program scientist at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“The release of Webb’s first full-color images will offer a unique moment for us all to stop and marvel at a view humanity has never seen before. These images will be the culmination of decades of dedication, talent, and dreams – but they will also be just the beginning.”
Deciding what Webb should look at first has been a project more than five years in the making, undertaken by an international partnership between NASA, ESA, CSA, and the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, home to Webb’s science and mission operations.
“Our goals for Webb’s first images and data are both to showcase the telescope’s powerful instruments and to preview the science mission to come,” said astronomer Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at STScI.