The deepest infrared view of the Universe has just been revealed, and it’s even better than we could have imagined.
In a live NASA broadcast, US President Joe Biden released the first official image from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), showing us an unprecedented new image of a region of space known as SMACS. 0723, a deep field in the distant Universe.
It’s the furthest back in time we’ve seen in the Universe to date, thanks to JWST’s impressive infrared capabilities and its giant mirror.
You can witness the image below in all its glory. We can’t stop looking at it:
Infrared is currently the best tool we have for observing the farthest reaches of space. Webb is expected to see further back in space-time than we have ever been able to reach before, hopefully to reveal new and key details about how the Universe began.
One tool for this is deep field imaging. Hubble took several deep fields, looking at a patch of sky for long periods of time to capture the dimmest, most distant light possible.
For his first deep field, Webb has looked at a patch of sky called SMACS 0723, in the southern constellation of Volans. Hubble has also obtained some observations of this region, and Webb is expected to reveal even more.
SMACS 0723 is a particularly good target for this type of observation because there are massive clusters of galaxies in the foreground.
These act like a giant cosmic magnifying glass. Due to the immense mass, its gravity causes a pronounced curvature of the space-time around it, with the effect of increasing the light of more distant objects.
Such gravitational lensing has previously produced spectacularly detailed views of the distant Universe. In this image of SMACS 0723, with a total exposure time of 12.5 hours, we can see thousands of galaxies, many for the first time, including the faintest objects we have ever seen in the infrared.
It’s been an epic journey for Webb, since the project’s inception in 1996, and one fraught with delays and setbacks.
To finally behold the first scientific images from this epic telescope is deeply wonderful and incredibly satisfying, and just the first glimpse of the beauty and science to come.
The unique image was unveiled in a special advance announcement at 6:15 pm EDT (2215 UTC) on July 11, 2022 and is just the first of many we’re about to behold. On July 12, 2022, at 10:30 a.m.
More updates to come.