Discover the hidden treasure in the first official image of the James Webb Telescope

On the eve of the launch of the first scientific observations of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), released on July 12 of this year, NASA decided to give a brief “spoiler” of what was to come, revealing what that happened in history as the first official photo taken of the equipment.

It is the deepest and most distant image of the universe ever made using infrared technology and shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. Now a study published in Astrophysical Journal Letters this Thursday (29) reveals that the image you see below contains a hidden treasure in the form of a distant galaxy that could contain some of the first stars in the universe.

The first scientific-quality image published by the James Webb Space Telescope, revealed on July 11, 2022, is the deepest infrared image of the universe ever captured. Image: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

Located 9 billion light-years from Earth, it is nicknamed the “Galaxy Sparkler” (something like “seer”) because of the tiny yellow, red and orange dots that surround it, which look like glitter and sequins. .

The galaxy itself is already notable for its strange elongated appearance, but the surrounding compact objects that inspired the name are of particular scientific interest, as they may be the most distant globular clusters ever observed.

Globular clusters are collections of ancient stars from a galaxy’s infancy that may contain clues to the early stages of galactic formation, growth and evolution.

The study’s team of authors, project scientists look at the 12 compact objects around the Sparkler galaxy CANadian NIRISS Unbiased Cluster Survey (CANUCS), found that five of them are actually globular clusters – or groups.

The researchers say they could be some of the oldest globular clusters ever seen, possibly dating back to when the first stars in the universe were born.

“It was really surprising to us that we could find such a unique object so early in the JWST data,” said Kartheik G. Iyer, an astronomer at the University of Toronto in Canada and co-author of the study. . website interview. space.com. “According to our analysis, we found that most of these glows around the main body of the galaxy are really massive and really old star systems. »

According to Iyer, the image taken by Webb allowed the team to observe the glows at a variety of wavelengths, indicating that scientists could model groups precisely to better understand their physical properties, as well as the age and number of stars they contain.

Discover the treasure hidden in the first official image of
Magnification of the first deep-field image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows a flickering galaxy and a globular cluster around it. Image: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI/CANUCS

Data from the Near-Infrared Sensor and Gapless Spectrograph (NIRISS) instrument, an astronomical photography and spectroscopy module capable of recording light at a frequency of 0.8 to 5 micrometers, revealed no evidence of oxygen, normally associated with young clusters that are actively forming stars.

James Webb was aided in observing the Sparkler Galaxy by both the Hubble Space Telescope, which has already imaged the galaxy but was unable to resolve the globular clusters that surround it, apart from a natural phenomenon called gravitational lensing.

Gravitational lensing was predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 1915 and has since become a powerful tool for astronomers. General relativity states that massive objects bend the fabric of spacetime.

Basically, like in a glass lens, light is distorted and amplified by the presence of one or more bodies of extreme mass, allowing spacetime to “contract” to the point where it is visualized.

This effect is what gives the Sparkler Galaxy its strange, elongated shape, magnifying it enough for JWST to locate. The phenomenon also causes several of the surrounding globular clusters to appear at different points in the space observatory’s deep-field image.

This not only made it possible to observe the Sparkler Galaxy, but also confirmed that these clusters are indeed orbiting it and not simply “superimposed” on it in JWST’s line of sight.

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However, the magnification achieved by gravitational lensing is not sufficient for further investigation of the galaxy. “The magnification of the Sparkler galaxy and its surroundings is not as limited as we would like,” Iyer said. “So one of the things we want to do is build a better magnification model so we can determine whether it’s magnified by a factor of 10 or a factor of 100.”

Finding out how magnified the Sparkler Galaxy and its clusters are can help determine more precisely their properties such as age and distance from Earth.

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