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Webb’s First Deep Field reveals thousands of galaxies

This snapshot shows what the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 looked like 4.6 billion (4,600,000,000) years ago.

Through the magic that is NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, we are seeing thousands of galaxies for the first time.

Not stars. Galaxies.

On 11 July 2022, President Joe Biden released the first image from this telescope, Webb’s First Deep Field. Galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is “overflowing with detail.”

This is a snapshot of what the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 looked like 4.6 billion (4,600,000,000) years ago. If that doesn’t cause you to blink, nothing will.

Webb’s First Deep Field
This image covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground. High-res PNG.

Neal deGrasse Tyson provides important context about the image:

The spiked objects are local stars in our own Galaxy. ignore them. Everything else is an entire galaxy. Many distort into arcs, revealing spacetime curvature from the gravity of a galaxy cluster in the image’s center.

From the NASA announcement:

This deep field, taken by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), is a composite made from images at different wavelengths, totaling 12.5 hours – achieving depths at infrared wavelengths beyond the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest fields, which took weeks.

The SMACS 0723 cluster acts like a massive lens, according to NASA, “magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it.” In 1995 and 1998, the Hubble Deep Fields “[took] us to within a stone’s throw of the big bang itself.” And now we have even more detail.

Webb, with its 6.5m-wide golden mirror and super-sensitive infrared instruments, has managed to detect in this picture the distorted shape (the red arcs) of galaxies that existed a mere 600 million years after the Big Bang (the Universe is 13.8 billion years old).

NASA is releasing the full suite of images on July 12th during a live NASA TV broadcast that begins at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

According to NASA, the James Webb Space Telescope is optimized for infrared wavelengths; it launched on 25 December 2021. It is designed to “complement and extend the discoveries” of the Hubble Space Telescope observatory, which the Discovery crew placed into orbit on 25 April 1990.

[Webb’s] longer wavelengths enable Webb to look further back in time to find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, and to peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, released in 2006, revealed 10,000 galaxies.


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By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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