NASA’s James Webb Telescope has released its first official images this week and they are absolutely stunning. Among all of the incredible things the images show are red and orange shapes, blobs and smudges. These red-shifted galaxies are some of the oldest galaxies we have ever been able to capture and sit at the far reaches of our (currently) known universe.
These ancient galaxies are over 13 billion years old and are so far away from us that the only way we could ever see them is with this brand new technology. However, we didn’t do it alone.
The deep space telescope was aimed at a super condensed cluster of galaxies. This cluster contains so much gravity that it actually bends space, and thus light, around it acting as a gravitational lens that acts very similar to the lens in your camera that allows you to zoom in and out. This is visible in the photo. If you look towards the center, you can make out what seems like a general circular shape to the orientation of the stars and galaxies in the photos.
The super-condensed cluster bends the light being emitted by the galaxies beyond it (from our perspective), bending the light particles and focusing them back in our direction. Essentially, we aimed our telescope, a multimillion dollar piece of equipment that is currently the pinnacle of human ingenuity, at a naturally occurring lens more powerful than anything we could ever currently hope to build.
The James Webb telescope took many photos in and near the infrared range of visible light and overlaid each to create the final product. The entire imaging process took about 12.5 hours. The result: a photo of a tiny portion of our universe 13 billion years in the making. In fact, if you held up a single grain of sand to our sky, that’s about the area the photo covers.
These are only the first of what will surely be many, many more images, expanding what we can consider the observable universe to its literal edge and possibly beyond. And that’s not even taking into consideration everything we will be able to see, observe and learn in between.
Pretty cool if you ask me.