Scientific surprise hidden behind James Webb’s first images

On July 11 and 12, 2022, humanity stepped into the future.

This nearly perfectly aligned image shows the first JWST deep-field view of the core of the composite cluster SMACS 0723 and a comparison with the older Hubble view. Absent from the Hubble data but looking at the image details present in the JWST data, we get a sense of just how much discovery potential awaits JWST scientists.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI; NASA/ESA/Hubble (STSCI); Composites by E. Siegel)

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) released its first scientific images, revealing the universe in an unprecedented light.

jwst deep field

This enhanced view of JWST’s first deep-field image of the universe highlights the brightest galaxies and the center of the cluster to better bring out the details present in the fainter, redder, more distant galaxies. It only took half a day to get this first deep-field view with JWST. With 20+ years of data to come, we can only imagine what will unfold.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI; Processing by E. Siegel)

The first image was a deep-field view of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, whose gravity magnifies background objects.

Many different objects were revealed in SMACS 0723’s JWST image, and the power of spectroscopy enabled us to determine how far apart they are and how much of their light is stretched out by the expansion of the universe. It is a powerful demonstration of the capabilities of JWST, as well as an example of the capabilities of gravitational lensing.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI)

Containing objects from throughout cosmic history, it previews even deeper, wider-field views ahead.

James Webb Hubble

A portion of the Hubble Extreme Deep Field that has been imaged for a total of 23 days, as opposed to the simulated view expected by James Webb in the infrared. With large-area mosaics such as COSMOS-Web and PANORAMIC, the latter of which takes advantage of pure parallel observation, ensuing, we must not only break the cosmic record for the most distant galaxy, but learn that the first luminous What are objects? seemed like the universe.

,Credit: the NASA/ESA and Hubble/HUDF team; JADES Collaboration for NIRCam Simulation)

But three other targets were also observed with the imagers, which also reveal unexpected, never-before-seen galaxies.

This three-panel image shows a view of the Carina Nebula’s “Cosmic Cliffs” as seen by Hubble (top), JWST’s NIRCam instrument (middle), and JWST’s MIRI instrument (bottom). With our first science release upon us, this new era in astronomy has really arrived.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI; NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

The Carina Nebula, located within the Milky Way, is a dusty region rich in gas and stars.

Although they are difficult to detect with the eye, there are several galaxies that can be seen through the clouds of cosmic rocks in the Carina Nebula. Several of them are manually rotated here in a cropped image from JWST’s NIRCam instrument.

,credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI, Processing by E. Siegel)

But many galaxies appear through obscure matter.

On the less dusty part of the cosmic rocks in the Carina Nebula, several faint, elongated objects can be identified among the bright stars that populate much of this region of space. Even in the galactic plane, where star density is greatest and neutral matter is abundant, background galaxies are abundant, and will likely be visible in every JWST image to come.

,credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI, Processing by E. Siegel)

A glimpse of the universe beyond can be seen even in this dense region of our galaxy.

As with the (old) Hubble data, the JWST NIRCam image of the Southern Ring Nebula is clearly superior in a variety of ways: resolution, details revealed, the extent of the outer gas, etc. This is truly a spectacular reveal of the stars. Like the sun ends their life.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI)

The Southern Ring Nebula, a dying, Sun-like star within our own galaxy, also reveals background sources.

Even where the debris of a dying star within our own galaxy is most luminous and feature-rich, many background galaxies can be identified, which are otherwise light-blocking dust at infrared wavelengths. occur through.

,credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI, Processing by E. Siegel)

Some galaxies are struck by the intelligent tendencies of nebulae.

The empty space gap is highlighted by JWST’s NIRCam imager, outside the obscure structure of the Southern Ring Nebula. A large number of galaxies and candidate galaxies can also be identified by hand. Many of these objects had never been seen before, demonstrating JWST’s power to reveal a hitherto unknown universe, even when that imaging was not the campaign’s science target.

,credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI, Processing by E. Siegel)

Others occupy large swathes of its outskirts.

This unannotated portion of JWST’s NIRCam instrument’s view of the Southern Ring Nebula reveals the nebula’s edges, a series of multi-pointed stars, and a whole range of extended objects that can be identified as background galaxies. In every region of space illustrated by NIRCam, galaxies await.

,credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI)

In all directions and places, there is something spectacular to uncover.

The contrast of Hubble’s approach to Stephen’s quintet with the NIRCam view of the JWST reveals a range of features that are barely apparent or not apparent at all with a small set of more restrictive wavelengths. The differences between the images highlight what features JWST may reveal that Hubble missed. Despite the beauty and awe that this image provides, there is no known planetary system in our own galaxy or any other where humans can survive as we do on Earth.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team; NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI)

But Stephen’s quintet image of JWST was the most illuminating.

Of the five main member galaxies that made up the Stephen Quintet, the JWST NIRCam view uncovers thousands of additional galaxies in the background, hundreds of which can be seen here and many of which have never previously been detected by another instrument or observatory. has not been recognized.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI)

Galaxies of all colors,

The color and shape of the Milky Way as revealed here by JWST’s NIRCam are determined not only by the intrinsic color and shape of the galaxies and the stars inside them, but also by the cosmological redshift and the cumulative distortion imprinted by all foreground masses . The resolution of these background galaxies is unprecedented.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI)


This extremely rich region of space was captured with JWST’s NIRCAM instrument looking at Stephen’s Quintet. Many of these galaxies are clustered together in real space, while others are just severe alignments along the same line-of-sight. A clustering analysis of such regions, many of which will be revealed in great detail by the JWST, could provide a tremendous amount of additional science on top of what was planned.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI)

and clustering pattern,

And just as there are many regions of space that have been imaged that are more dense in terms of the number of galaxies and the total mass in that region, there are also less dense void-like regions. The JWST can reveal them all, wherever it moves its infrared eyes.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI)

can be seen everywhere.

This region, located on the outskirts of star-forming regions due to the interactions of several galaxy members within Stephen’s quintet, reveals abundant details about nearby star-formation in these galaxies, as well as background galaxies. reveals. The adage, “One astronomer’s noise is another astronomer’s data” is on full display here, as extragalactic and stellar astronomers of all kinds can have a field day that has appeared in this one region of space.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI)

We’ve long said, “One astronomer’s noise is another astronomer’s data.”

MIRI view of Stephen’s quintet displays features that cannot be observed at any other wavelength. Its uppermost galaxy – NGC 7319 – is a supermassive black hole 24 million times the mass of the Sun. It is an actively accreting material and emits light energy equivalent to 40 billion Suns. MIRI unveils a surprisingly bright active galactic nucleus through the dust around this black hole. It’s so bright, in the eyes of MIRI, that it even has the distinctive JWST “spike” pattern.

,Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STSCI)

For scientists studying galaxies, each subsequent JWST image holds a potential treasure.

James Webb Spikes

The first finely-phased image ever released by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows an image of a star, complete with six major diffraction spikes (and two less-major ones), behind it the background stars and Galaxies are revealed. Background galaxies were a surprise to astronomers; JWST is imaging the Universe at nearly twice the performance accuracy for which it was design-specified. Even such images, not originally created for scientific purposes, may prove useful as a unique and unexpected source of data for astronomers studying the universe.

,Credit: NASA/STSCI)

Mostly Mute Monday tells a celestial story in images, visuals and more than 200 words. speak less; smile more.

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