the first photo of the James Webb Telescope, the successor to Hubble

It’s finally here: after years of waiting, the first image from the James Webb Telescope was unveiled to the world on Monday, July 11, a lavish shot showing galaxies formed shortly after the Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago.

This first scientific and color image of James Webb marks a day “historic”, during this event held at the White House, six months after its launch in orbit around this space telescope, President Joe Biden greeted the most powerful ever designed. This photograph is “the deepest and clearest infrared image ever taken of the distant universe so far”said NASA.

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A gravitational lens effect

The light, after traveling such a path, stretched from the visible spectrum to the infrared, a wavelength that was invisible to human eyes but not to James Webbs.

The latter aimed, for this image, illustrating the distant times of the cosmos, the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, which, acting as a magnifying glass, also made it possible to reveal very distant cosmic objects located behind it: an effect called gravitational lenses.

The James Webb Telescope uses infrared to refine its images.

The picture, which is full of details, was taken over an observation time of 12.5 hours. It thus shows thousands of galaxies, at the heart of which certain structures “never seen before”according to NASA. The research work has therefore only begun. “Researchers will soon start learning more about fairs, ages, stories and compositions” of these galaxies, the space agency added.

An $ 10 billion engineering gem, one of James Webb’s most important missions is to explore the early ages of the universe. In astronomy, it is equivalent to looking far back in time, as the observed light traveled for billions of years before it reached us.

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“A new era has begun for astronomy”commented AFP Jonathan Lunine, an astronomer at Cornell University, calling the image one “fantastic”. Then he added:

“While it’s by no means the longest Webb can see, […] this shows the power of this remarkable telescope: enormous sensitivity, a wide range of wavelengths and vivid image clarity. “

Pictures of fogs this Tuesday

Although the names of the first five cosmic targets by James Webb were announced as early as last week, the images had so far been jealously kept secret, to create excitement.

The following photos of this real surprise bag will be unveiled during a NASA online event on Tuesday. They must both impress the general public with their beauty, but also demonstrate to astronomers around the world all the power of the four scientific instruments on board.

Experts will be able to begin to interpret data collected using dedicated software, giving the starting signal for a great scientific adventure.

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Two images of nebulae – very photogenic and giant clouds of gas and dust where stars have formed – are on the program for Tuesday: the Carina nebula and that of the Austral ring. Another target, Stephans Quintet, a group of galaxies that interact with each other.

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Other worlds?

The first spectroscopy from the James Webb telescope is also due to be published on Tuesday. This is not an image in itself, but a technique used to determine the chemical composition of a distant object. In this case WASP-96 b, a giant planet consisting mainly of gas and located outside our solar system.

Exoplanets (planets orbiting a star other than our sun) are one of James Webb’s most important areas of research. About 5,000 have been discovered since 1995, but they are still very mysterious. The goal is to study their atmosphere to determine if some could turn out to be worlds that promote life development.

Thanks to his near-infrared and medium-infrared observations, James Webb will be able to see through impenetrable clouds of dust for his predecessor, the mythical Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990 and still in operation, it has a small infrared capacity but works mainly in visible light and ultraviolet.

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Other major differences between the two telescopes: James Webb’s main mirror is almost three times larger than Hubble’s, and it develops much further: 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, compared to 600 km for Hubble.

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The publication of these first images marks the official start of the very first cycle of scientific observation of the telescope. Hundreds of observation projects, proposed by researchers from around the world, have already been selected by a selection of specialists for this first year of operation.

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