WASHINGTON: James Webb Space Telescopethe most powerful observatory to be placed in orbit, has revealed the “deepest, sharpest infrared image of the early universe” ever taken, dating back 13 billion years, NASA announced on Monday.
The stunning shot, revealed during a White House briefing by President Joe Biden, is packed with thousands of galaxies and features the faintest objects ever seen, colorized from infrared to blue, orange and white tones.
“This telescope is one of the great technical achievements of mankind,” he said.
Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, it shows galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, which acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying galaxies much further away behind it.
Webb’s NIRCam primary imager — which operates in the near-infrared wavelength spectrum because light from the early universe stretched out by the time it reached us — pinpointed these low-background galaxies. plan.
Webb compiled the composite shot in 12.5 hours, achieving far beyond what the Hubble Space Telescope could do in weeks.
The next set of images will be released on Tuesday.
An international committee has decided that the first wave of images will include the Carina Nebula, a huge cloud of dust and gas 7,600 light years away.
The Carina Nebula is famous for its towering pillars, including “Mystic Mountain,” a three-light-year cosmic peak captured in an iconic image by the Hubble Space Telescope, until now humanity’s first space observatory.
Webb also performed spectroscopy – an analysis of light that reveals detailed information – on a distant gas giant called WASP-96b, discovered in 2014.
Nearly 1,150 light-years from Earth, WASP-96b is about half the mass of Jupiter and orbits its star in just 3.4 days.
Nestor Espinoza, an STSI astronomer, told AFP that previous spectroscopies of exoplanets performed using existing instruments were very limited compared to what Webb could do.
“It’s like being in a very dark room and you only have a little pinhole you can look through,” he said of the earlier technology. Now, with Webb, “You’ve opened up a huge window, you can see all the little details.”
Launched in December 2021 from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket, Webb orbits the Sun at a distance of one million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth, in a region of space called the second Lagrange point.
Here it remains in a fixed position relative to the Earth and the Sun, with minimal fuel required for course corrections.
An engineering marvel, the total cost of the project is estimated at $10 billion, making it one of the most expensive scientific platforms ever built, comparable to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.
Webb’s main mirror is over 21 feet (6.5 meters) wide and is made up of 18 gold-coated mirror segments. Like a hand-held camera, the structure must remain as stable as possible to achieve the best shots.
Charlie Atkinson, chief program engineer for the James Webb Space Telescope at prime contractor Northrop Grumman, told AFP it oscillates no more than 17 millionths of a millimetre.
After the first images, astronomers around the world will get shares of time on the telescope, with projects competitively selected through a process in which applicants and selectors don’t know each other’s identities, to minimize bias. .
With an efficient launch, NASA estimates Webb has enough propellant for a 20-year lifespan, as it works in concert with the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to answer fundamental questions about the cosmos.

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