As the world begins the countdown to the release of the first images from the James Webb Telescope, NASA has, purely theatrically, decided to give away a little teaser image to help with the anticipation – and the results are already spectacular!
While somewhat “rough around the edges,” it’s one of the deepest images of the universe ever taken, according to Webb scientists. Bright stars stand out proudly in the image, characterized by their six long, sharp diffraction peaks (an effect due to the configuration of Webb’s mirror), while galaxies swoop in their cosmic dance beyond them.
This image cannot be studied to determine the age of these space structures because color filters were not used in the imaging process, but it still offers a remarkably stunning view of the cosmos.
According to NASA, this image was somewhat unplanned, as they did not believe the telescope would be able to achieve it. The space agency didn’t think there would be enough communications bandwidth to transmit images between Earth and L2 – L2 being a point in space 1.5 million miles away and the home of the Webb Telescope, as it provides a clear view of deep space.
However, when they began the week-long stability test, the telescope outdid itself, resulting in the creation of this image using 72 exposures over 32 hours. Its existence is just another testament to the power of the JWST.
“With the Webb telescope achieving better than expected image quality, at the start of commissioning we intentionally defocused the guides by a small amount to ensure they met their performance requirements. When this image was taken, I was delighted to clearly see all the detailed structure of these faint galaxies,” said Neil Rowlands, program scientist for the Webb Fine Guidance Sensor, Honeywell Aerospace.
“Given what we now know is possible with deep broadband guidance images, perhaps such images, taken in parallel with other observations when possible, could prove scientifically useful to the coming.”
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the most powerful telescope ever launched into space and represents the culmination of human knowledge so far. The JWST launched in December 2021 and will investigate the formation of the first stars and galaxies, essentially giving us a glimpse into the past like a time machine.
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