Nasa has released landmark images revealing new insights into the known universe, with the first showing showing the deepest and sharpest image of the distant cosmos yet. Yesterday (12 July), the first ever image to be taken with the James Webb Space Telescope – which is designed primarily to conduct infrared astronomy – was revealed. In partnership with European Space Agency (ESA) and Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Nasa has followed up this release with a full set of full-colour images, launched in a televised broadcast.
The first Webb image captures galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. For those who are yet to have the viewing pleasure, this particular slice of the universe covers a patch approximately the size of a grain of sand if you held it at arm’s length against the sky. The image is overflowing with details of thousands of galaxies, demonstrating the powerful capabilities of the Webb; the large telescope far surpasses the reach of the Hubble, able to capture fainter, further-off galaxies.
The release of the first Webb images shows the potential to look back 13 billion years into the cosmos. “What happened after the big bang? How did the expanding universe cool down and make black holes and galaxies and stars and planets and people?” asks John Mather, Webb senior project scientist at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center.
John continues: “Astronomers see everything twice: first with pictures, and then with imagination and calculation. But there’s something out there that we’ve never imagined, and I will be as amazed as you are when we find it.” On the record-setting deep view, John also states: “Scientists are thrilled that Webb is alive and as powerful as we hoped, far beyond Hubble, and that it survived all hazards to be our golden eye in the sky.”
The release of the first Webb image has drawn calls from the astronomy community, including those who work at Nasa, to rename the telescope. Named after the second administrator of Nasa James Webb, Nasa employees and online communities state Webb was complicit in persecuting LGBTQIA+ employees at Nasa during his time at the organisation.
The full set of Webb images are being added to this story as they are released. Viewers can track the Webb’s current status here.
NASA: James Webb Space Telescope, Deep Field (Copyright © NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI, 2022)
About the Author
Liz (she/they) joined It’s Nice That as news writer in December 2021. After graduating in Film from The University of Bristol, they worked freelance, writing for independent publications such as Little White Lies, INDIE magazine and design studio Evermade.