It is said that the sky is the limit, but for NASA and others like it, it is merely a step to the vastness beyond. Now, with the help of the world’s premier space science observatory, America’s space agency has removed the curtain over the first image taken and beamed back to the blue planet by the James Webb Space Telescope.
Marking the culmination of NASA’s two-and-a-half decade-long journey and the expenditure of $10 billion, the image is said to be the deepest and most detailed infrared view of the universe to date. Overflowing with detail, it was unveiled during a White House briefing to US President Joe Biden. NASA will release the full suite of the inaugural images today during a live NASA TV broadcast, starting at 10:30 AM EDT.
Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, the image is taken by the Telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and shows galaxies that are far, far, away, as they were 13 billion years ago (just 800 million years younger than the Big Bang). The first image is but a taste to come and teases what else the world’s most powerful telescope will unveil to the world as it looks back in time and tries to answer questions that have long been left unanswered.
Our first step to understanding the mysteries of the universe and its origins shows a galaxy cluster known as SMACS 0723, present in the Southern Hemisphere constellation of Volans. At a distance of 4.6 billion light-years away, the cluster’s enormous mass effectively bends space and time around the numerous galaxies, which are coloured from infrared to white, blue, and orange.
This bending of space and time is a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, which occurs when spacetime curves around massive celestial bodies so that the path of light around it is bent. It is like viewing something using the zoom lens on a telescope, just on a much grander scale, which results in magnifying distant galaxies and bringing them into sharp focus.
According to NASA administrator Bill Nelson, the image shows “one little speck of the Universe,” covering an area that is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.
Unsurprisingly, this image highlights the James Webb Space Telescope’s goal to revolutionize astronomy and redefine the way we view the universe.
“When this image is shared with the world, it will be a historic moment for science and technology, for astronomy and space exploration, for America and all of humanity,” Joe Biden said before the picture was unveiled, adding that it was a “new window” into the history of the universe.
He added that the images taken by the Telescope and shared by NASA would remind the world that “America can do big things, and remind the American people – especially our children – that there’s nothing beyond our capacity.”