A century ago, we – humans – believed that the universe ended at the edge of the Milky Way. Where the last starlight of our home galaxy blinked, nothing endless began.
Up to Edwin Hubble. The famous astronomer diligently searched the sky for twinkling stars from his Mount Wilson Observatory in California. His work with the Hooker telescope, which doubled the size of the universe in 1923, helped him and others reveal that Andromeda was not a tightly packed cluster of stars. Inside The Milky Way, but its own galaxy, is 2.5 million light years away. Hubble knew how powerful technological advances could be: bigger, better telescopes would help expand our horizons even further.
Eighty years later, Hubble’s eponymous space telescope will once again reveal our view of the cosmic horizon.A snapshot of the universe stretched across space and time, revealing galaxies born 600 million years after the Big Bang.
As of today, July 11, 2022, our horizons are expanding once again. A hundred years of progress — in telescopes, astronomy, astrophysics, engineering, rocket science, math, hell, even online video streaming — led NASA to release the first image ever obtained by the James Webb Space Telescope.
After a long wait A warm led Discussion of NASA TV’s “Hold Music” online, President Joe Biden had the honor of releasing the first look of the web to the universe on Monday. Press conference But it provided a historic first from across the universe.
“If you hold a grain of sand at arm’s length on your fingertip, you’re only seeing a tiny speck of the universe,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during a press conference.
The full picture is below.
Deep Field explores a corner of space called SMACS 0723 that has been seen by space telescopes like Hubble. It consists of a giant galaxy that acts as a lens, magnifying the light of galaxies from the far reaches of the universe.
One of the most striking features of this Webb image – and images to come – is a function of how the mirrors in the James Webb telescope are designed, the six-point light you can see in the image.
There is a circular blur of light across the center of the image. This is the “lensing” effect. The gravitational pull of the large foreground cluster, about 4 billion light-years away, alters the way light reaches telescopes from deep, deep space. In some cases, galaxies appear in two places because of the effect, and astronomers can study this light to better understand what those deep galaxies look like.
Compared to a Hubble image of the same area, the difference is… mind blowing.
The image isn’t exactly “telescopically hot”. This is not what web browsing is all about. Webb’s imaging capabilities capture infrared light from cosmic objects in black and white, just like Hubble, and image processing software is used to reveal all the nuances of space. Those who helped create the images then perform a feat of technical and artistic wizardry: They map infrared wavelengths to colors to highlight the most important features in an image.
Some of the galaxies in the picture were only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Thanks to Webb’s powerful optics, we’re seeing them for the first time. The most interesting thing about them is that they appear to be larger than the galaxies that are technically much closer.
“The red galaxies in the image are farther away from us than the blue ones – so you’d expect them to be smaller than the blue ones,” says Jonty Horner, an astrophysicist at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. Instead, he notes, red galaxies appear more massive due to a quirk of light called “angular diameter turnaround.” This will make your head hurt, but when those old galaxies were first emitting light, the universe was very compact, meaning they were very close at the time. Gah!
While Deep Field is fun, it’s just the entrance. Tomorrow, NASA will serve up a buffet of web images to feast on a groundbreaking look at deep space. The publication will highlight dazzling nebulae, illuminate alien worlds and pull back the curtain on a group of colliding galaxies. If this first film is anything to go by, you’ll want to be hooked too. We’ve got you covered: Here’s when and where to catch the dropBut you can also watch the CNET Highlights livestream embedded below.
Updated 6 pm PT: Comments added