Webb Telescope Keeps Churning Out the Best Sights

Date:6 August 2022

What’s the oldest galaxy humanity has ever seen? Our vision now extends to astonishingly cosmic distances.

On July 12, the James Webb Space Telescope’s near-infrared and mid-infrared instruments issued their first clear glimpse of thousands of galaxies in a deep field view that took advantage of gravitational lensing, when the powerful gravitational field of a huge group of galaxies bends the light rays from more distant galaxies, pulling them into our view.

One of the galaxies Webb saw emerged from a fledgling universe, only 235 million years after the Big Bang, making it the oldest galaxy we’ve ever laid eyes on. In fact, CEERS-93316 is an astounding 35 billion light-years away.

The images here include all of the publicly released Webb photos and descriptions, and we’ll be updating them weekly. For a complete list of images and their descriptions, see the official Webb Gallery, where you’ll also find analysis graphs that explain the properties of distant objects in space, such as Exoplanet 96B’s atmospheric composition.

Webb’s First Deep Field of Thousands of Galaxies (July 12)

Thousands of galaxies flood this near-infrared image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. High-resolution imaging from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope combined with a natural effect known as gravitational lensing made this finely detailed image possible.

First, focus on the galaxies responsible for the lensing: the bright white elliptical galaxy at the center of the image and smaller white galaxies throughout the image. Bound together by gravity in a galaxy cluster, they are bending the light from galaxies that appear in the vast distances behind them. The combined mass of the galaxies and dark matter act as a cosmic telescope, creating magnified, contorted, and sometimes mirrored images of individual galaxies.

The galaxies in this scene that are farthest away—the tiniest galaxies that are located well behind the cluster—look nothing like the spiral and elliptical galaxies observed in the local universe. They are much clumpier and more irregular. Webb’s highly detailed image may help researchers measure the ages and masses of star clusters within these distant galaxies. This might lead to more accurate models of galaxies that existed at cosmic “spring,” when galaxies were sprouting tiny “buds” of new growth, actively interacting and merging, and had yet to develop into larger spirals. Ultimately, Webb’s upcoming observations will help astronomers better understand how galaxies form and grow in the early universe.

Southern Ring Nebula in Near-infrared and Mid-infrared Wavelengths (July 12)

The left-hand image in in near-infrared (NIRCam image) and the right-hand image is in mid-infrared (MIRI Image).

This side-by-side comparison shows observations of the Southern Ring Nebula from NASA’s WebbTelescope instruments.

This scene was created by a white dwarf star—the remains of a star like our Sun after it shed its outer layers and stopped burning fuel through nuclear fusion. Those outer layers now form the ejected shells all along this view. In the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) image, the white dwarf appears to the lower left of the bright, central star, partially hidden by a diffraction spike. The same star appears – but brighter, larger, and redder – in the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) image. This white dwarf star is cloaked in thick layers of dust, which make it appear larger.

Stephan’s Quintet (July 12)

An enormous mosaic of Stephan’s Quintet is the largest image to date from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, covering about one-fifth of the Moon’s diameter. It contains over 150 million pixels and is constructed from almost 1,000 separate image files. The visual grouping of five galaxies was captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI).

With its powerful, infrared vision and extremely high spatial resolution, Webb shows never-before-seen details in this galaxy group. Sparkling clusters of millions of young stars and starburst regions of fresh star birth grace the image. Sweeping tails of gas, dust and stars are being pulled from several of the galaxies due to gravitational interactions.

Most dramatically, Webb’s MIRI instrument captures huge shock waves as one of the galaxies, NGC 7318B, smashes through the cluster. These regions surrounding the central pair of galaxies are shown in the colors red and gold.

Carina Nebula (July 12)

What looks much like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula.

Captured in infrared light by the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals previously obscured areas of star birth.

Called the Cosmic Cliffs, the region is actually the edge of a gigantic, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, roughly 7,600 light-years away. The cavernous area has been carved from the nebula by the intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive, hot, young stars located in the center of the bubble, above the area shown in this image.

The high-energy radiation from these stars is sculpting the nebula’s wall by slowly eroding it away. NIRCam—with its crisp resolution and unparalleled sensitivity—unveils hundreds of previously hidden stars, and even numerous background galaxies.

Cartwheel Galaxies and Companions (August 2)

This image of the Cartwheel and its companion galaxies is a composite from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which reveals details that are difficult to see in the individual images alone.

This galaxy formed as the result of a high-speed collision that occurred about 400 million years ago. The Cartwheel is composed of two rings, a bright inner ring and a colorful outer ring. Both rings expand outward from the center of the collision like shockwaves.

However, despite the impact, much of the character of the large, spiral galaxy that existed before the collision remains, including its rotating arms. This leads to the “spokes” that inspired the name of the Cartwheel Galaxy, which are the bright red streaks seen between the inner and outer rings. These brilliant red hues, located not only throughout the Cartwheel, but also the companion spiral galaxy at the top left, are caused by glowing, hydrocarbon-rich dust.

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