NASA on Monday released the first of a series of images taken by the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
The new image gave an unprecedented look into the deepest space – and was a stunning improvement on similar images taken by its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
The JWST was launched on December 25, 2021. It is six times larger and 100 times more powerful than Hubble, which was launched 32 years ago in 1990.
The image released on Monday shows a huge sweep of space and the JWST has far more detail than Hubble.
It was taken with near-infrared sensors, which capture a different spectrum than a conventional camera. In addition to getting better results than Hubble, JWST works faster. Hubble took weeks to scan its deep space image, while JWST covered the same area in 12 hours 30 minutes.
Zooming in makes the comparison even clearer. The images below compare Hubble and JWST renderings of a cluster of galaxies called SMACs 0723 as it appeared about 4.6 billion years ago.
The enormous amount of time is a consequence of the distance traveled by light from deep space to telescopes orbiting Earth.
This area of space is of particular interest to astronomers because the gravitational pull of galaxies distorts the light from galaxies farther behind them, a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.
Examples of the light distorted by galaxies can be seen below:
Cosmologist Katie Mack further explained gravitational lensing in the video below:
JWST aims to look deeper into deep space than ever before. Its power will help fill a mysterious gap in the history of the universe – the first 400 million years after the big bang, according to Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen.
It will also search for planets outside our solar system that may harbor life.
More photos of the JWST should be released shortly, by NASA.
The next images will look at these areas:
- Carina Nebula: One of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky, approximately 7,600 light-years away, which is a stellar nursery where stars are formed.
- WASP-96 b (spectrum): WASP-96 b is a giant planet outside the solar system composed mostly of gas.
- South Ring Nebula: an expanding cloud of gas surrounding a dying star about 2,000 light-years from Earth.
- Stephan’s Quintet: Located in the constellation Pegasus, this is the first compact group of galaxies ever discovered in 1877, about 290 million light-years away.