Any area of space that is sufficiently magnified will be populated with far-off galaxies. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a huge observatory that is pushing the boundaries of astronomical observation, and its first deep-field image is zoomed in farther than any previous infrared image of the universe. It has made galaxies visible that we had never seen before.
At the end of 2021, JWST was launched from French Guiana, and in early 2022, it reached its final orbit around the sun. The first photographs of sufficient quality to be used for research have begun to arrive on Earth. The first of these photographs was shown by US president Joe Biden on July 11 at a news conference at the White House. On July 12th, four more are expected to be made available.
The first picture shows what scientists refer to as a gravitational lens in the space area known as SMACS 0723. In situations like these, a large object very near to Earth acts like a magnifying glass, extending the light of anything behind it and warping space.
Because a massive cluster of galaxies rather than a single galaxy is the closest object bending space-time in SMACS 0723, the gravitational lens there is exceptionally potent.
The distant, exceedingly dim galaxies that can be seen around the margins of the picture are some of the earliest galaxies to have ever been created. They are little specks and streaks of light that have been magnified by the lens.
The expansion of the cosmos, which causes objects to move faster away from us and seem redder as a result, is one reason why we couldn’t see these galaxies until recently. JWST employs infrared, which enables it to detect objects that seem so red that they have become invisible to Hubble, while JWST’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, primarily examines light at visible wavelengths.
According to Stephen Wilkins of the University of Sussex in the UK, “we assume that stars develop from primordial material in the distant cosmos, they form in a totally different manner, but we’ve never actually witnessed that before.” There is a great deal of important physics there that we are unaware of.
It may be possible to unravel the puzzle of how the first stars and galaxies developed by learning more about how these early stars and galaxies formed.
This initial picture is a tantalizing preview of what the JWST will be able to capture in the future, including more images and in-depth studies of the cosmos. The floodgates of JWST research will undoubtedly open up in the coming weeks and completely alter our perception of the universe.
The data from today and tomorrow, according to Wilkins, are the first that we may be able to use for research. Very soon, we’ll get data that we can certainly use for science. “All the data we’ve seen up until now has simply proved that it’s really functioning,” he adds.