First image from James Webb telescope shows most distant galaxies

Newborn galaxies that formed in the young universe more than 13 billion years ago captivated viewers when Nasa released the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope on Monday night.

The picture shows a Galaxy The cluster known as SMACS 0723 when it appeared 4.6 billion years ago – around the time Earth was formed – acts as a gravitational lens and magnifies the more distant and older galaxies that appear to after it.

Bill Nelson, Nasa administrator, released the image at a White House briefing with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris. He said the oldest galaxies in the image could be dated to within 300 million years of the birth of the universe 13.8 billion years ago.

The “deep field” image covers an area of ​​sky the size of a grain of sand held by a person on the ground at arm’s length, says Nelson. It is a composite created from images at different infrared wavelengths over a 12-hour period.

An informative image explaining the components of the James Webb . Space Telescope

Nasa and its partner, the European Space Agency, will release four more initial scientific observations from the $10 billion telescope on Tuesday.

One will include an analysis of a planet orbiting a distant star. The spectrum of the gas giant Wasp-96b, orbiting a star 1,150 light-years away, will reveal the chemical composition of its atmosphere.

Astronomers hope that the technique will eventually show which planets are likely to have life – through the presence of methane, oxygen and organic molecules, for example – despite the discovery. another inhabited world is not expected in the near future.

Three other observations will reveal: the Carina Nebula, a “star nursery” 7,600 light-years away; The Southern Ring Nebula, an expanding gas giant 2,000 light-years away; and Stephan’s Quintet, a small group of five galaxies 290 million light-years from Earth.

Diagram explaining the position of the James Webb Space Telescope in orbit

Mark McCaughrean, Esa’s senior scientific adviser, said: “These scientific images were obtained after five days of observations. “Think about what’s going to happen in the months and years to come.”

This week’s Webb images are not the first to be seen by the public – Nasa released a few “engineering images” last month from the telescope’s operating period – but they are scientific images. learn full color first.

Webb’s images add false color to show the observed wavelengths because they were recorded in the infrared, beyond the human eye. In contrast, the Hubble Space Telescope, still operating after 32 years in orbit, observes visible light.

White House presentation with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris revealed the first image from the Webb telescope on Monday night

The White House presentation with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris revealed the first image from the Webb telescope on Monday night © NASA TV / AFP / Getty Images

After three decades of design and construction, plagued by delays and cost overruns, Webb had a flawless launch on the Ariane 5 rocket on Christmas Day last year.

Richard Ellis, professor of astrophysics at University College London, said the launch device steered Webb in the right direction to its destination, the “second Lagrange point” 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, to the extent that the spacecraft The cylinder must use less fuel than expected to determine its final position. , who has been involved in the project since its early years. As a result, it has more fuel to stay in place throughout the mission.

“The launch accuracy extended the expected life of the telescope,” he said. “The original specification was 5 years with a target of 10. Now Webb can easily reach 10 years and can continue for 15 years.”

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