NASA recently announced that its James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has produced the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe ever seen, heralding a major event in astronomy. The JWST is the largest and most powerful telescope ever built.
About the ‘James Webb Space Telescope’ –
- JWST is a space telescope jointly developed by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
- It was launched on December 25, 2021, and is currently at a point in space known as the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange point, approximately 1.5 million km beyond Earth’s orbit around the Sun.
- L2 is one of the five points in the orbital plane of the Earth-Sun system, which is directly behind Earth in the line joining the Sun and the Earth.
- It is where the gravitational forces of the two large bodies cancel each other out and it would be shielded from the Sun as it goes around the Sun, in sync with the Earth.
- Objects placed at these positions are relatively stable and require minimal external energy or fuel to keep themselves there and so many instruments are positioned here.
- To look back around 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early universe.
- To compare the faintest, earliest galaxies to today’s grand spirals and understand how galaxies assemble over billions of years.
- To see where stars and planetary systems are being born.
- to observe the atmospheres of extrasolar planets (beyond the solar system) and perhaps find the building blocks of life elsewhere in the universe.
What has JWST captured?
- Thousands of galaxies, including the faintest infrared objects ever observed, have appeared for the first time in Webb’s view, all captured in a relatively small area.
- From 13 billion years ago, this is the oldest documented light in the universe’s history.
- Because the Universe is 13.8 billion years old, the image goes almost all the way back to the beginning, with many more images to come.
What can be seen in the image?
- NASA describes the image as “Webb’s First Deep Field,” and it shows galaxies that were previously invisible to us.
- The image, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), depicts the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago.
- The galaxy cluster’s combined mass acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it.
- This will aid researchers in learning more about the masses, ages, histories, and compositions of galaxies as Webb searches for the universe’s earliest galaxies.