NASA’s Webb Space Telescope reveals a shimmering universe with its biggest image yet

For the James Webb Space Telescope, the milestones have been inflexible. Just over a month since this pioneering machine left mankind in awe following the release of its first stunning deep field, vivid nebulous portraits and shots of galactic muses, it has graced us with its greatest image yet. day.

This week, international scientists affiliated with the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey, or CEERS, presented a massive color mosaic born out of data collected by the JWST. This is a record-breaking mural known as Epoch 1 that covers a small portion of the sky near the handle of the Big Dipper constellation.

A pixelated image showing a red dot on a black void

This pixelated red dot could be a galaxy that existed just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang, i.e. the Maisie Galaxy. The scale bar is 1 kiloparsec (about 3,260 light years).

Finkelstein et al. (2022)/NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

Already, the CEERS collaboration has been revealing glimpses of era 1, many of which have sent astronomers spiraling down the JWST discovery rabbit hole and posting about the galactic goodies inside. For example, CEERS project manager Steven Finkelstein announced the submission of an article last month regarding a “very compelling” candidate for a galaxy that could only have existed 290 million years after the Big Bang. It’s called Maisie’s galaxy, after his daughter, as he was discovered on her birthday.

But now CEERS says Era 1 is officially over.

For context of how quite big This final image is, the team explains, covers an area about eight times larger than the JWST’s first deep field, released on July 11, which was already incredibly massive. The culminating mosaic consists of 690 individual images taken with JWST’s near-infrared camera, and it will be built on observations that are expected to take place in December.

“Epoch 1 covers less than half of our total study area in the sky and already the images have led to new discoveries and an unexpected, but not unwelcome, abundance of galaxies never seen before,” said the author. CEERS team in a press release. .

You can download a medium or high resolution version of the image here – but if you’re shooting for the latter, as I absolutely did, CEERS recommends using a computer or laptop. Due to the gigantic size of this file, your mobile phone might start acting up.

OK, now that you’ve successfully accessed the image, let’s discuss some highlights. There are six main points of interest, according to the CEERS team. Here is a diagram.

Here is the complete diagram of the CEERS Epoch 1 image. At the bottom are close-ups of some highlights of the mosaic.

NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

First, (1) there is the spiral galaxy to the upper left, which gives off a redshift of z=0.16.

Redshift is essentially how astronomers gauge the distance, and therefore the recoil in time, of an object. Its name comes from the fact that, as a luminous object moves away from our point of view, the light it emanates becomes redder and redder… and redder and redder, finally falling into the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum and becoming invisible to the human eye. Fear not, however, because the JWST can also collect this “invisible” light, which is also why it promises to unveil an “unfiltered universe”, a phrase you may have seen online.

And in short, a bigger redshift means something is farther from Earth.

Then (2) towards the center of the image is a bright galaxy with a redshift of z=1.05. This spot also contains several smaller galaxies that appear as an arc when viewed with the JWST. On Monday, Rebecca Larson, a PhD student in astronomy at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the CEERS collaboration, tweeted her adorable name for this scene.

“TBT one late night when I decided this galaxy…looked like Pacman and started layering the little yellow dude and laughed so hard we all decided it was time to go home,” larson wrote.

To the right of this herd, (3), is a system of interacting galaxies at z=1.4. Finkelstein dubbed this one the “Space Kraken,” tweeted Larson. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the creepy ancient sea monster.

Move to another, (4), and you’ll notice a pair of spiral galaxies — in the enlarged version at the bottom of the diagram, a white arrow points to a supernova in this section of the sky also discovered by the JWST. The redshift here is z = 0.7. CEERS published a paper on these particular phenomena last month, as comparing the JWST duo’s version to that of the Hubble Space Telescope could have offered a lot of new information.

Below, (5), is another special spiral galaxy at z=0.7, and finally, (6), is a galaxy z=0.63 with a tidal tail and a cluster of red galaxies behind it. plane which fall at z = 1.85. “I tried to call this feature a ‘hot space mess’ but the press people said ‘no,'” Larson tweeted of the chaotic landscape.

And of course, CEERS also highlights Maisie’s galaxy in a close-up below. If Finkelstein and his colleagues are right about this one existing 290 million light-years after the Big Bang, it has a staggering redshift of z=14. Plus, it would essentially prove that galaxies started forming much earlier in the universe than astronomers once thought.

Dark space background shows different angles of the Maisie galaxy.  The version closest to the image is on the lower left, depicting a patch of reddish light.

Here is an image showing the galaxy known as the Maisie Galaxy.

NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

However, due to the abundance of ultra-distant candidate galaxies spotted since the JWST activation, many scientists guard against the possibility of false hope. A paper published earlier this month in The Astrophysical Journal by CEERS collaborators, for example, points to the possibility of error when checking for these high redshift domains. Unrelated cosmic phenomena could essentially photobomb the data, and therefore contaminate the results.

Nevertheless, the new era of astronomy in which we find ourselves is extremely exciting.

“I hope you are just as impressed and excited about this telescope and the data as I was. I am so lucky to share it with you and hope you find your new favorite galaxies there too! ” Larson tweeted in conclusion to a brilliant thread on the CEERS map.

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