If you’ve been on the internet at all in the last two weeks, you’ve probably seen the images from the James Webb Space (JWST) Telescope. While it’s difficult for those of us who aren’t astronomers to understand the significance of NASA‘s announcement of a James Webb Space Telescope image from the far reaches of the universe, digging deeper into this is a good way to see that it’s not just a picture of any random bit of space.
At the center of the photograph, galaxies that are bent and deformed can be seen to trace the outline of an object that resembles a sphere. And though we are somewhat familiar with images that show points of light, this image is actually something completely different.
The image from the James Webb Space Telescope is packed with galaxies in comparison to the earlier photograph of this area of space taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.
These are novel objects that have probably never been observed with a telescope before. The Webb is an enormous telescope, with a mirror that is more than twice the size of the Hubble, making it feasible for this new perspective on the cosmos. Webb also has the ability to see infrared light.
Twitter user Sophia Gad-Nasr shared in a tweet: “The image taken by the JWST compared to one taken by Hubble, of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. It’s s a gravitational lens, showing us the light of galaxies that are far behind the cluster in arcs around it. I tried to orient them the same. Look at the difference.”
The image taken by the JWST compared to one taken by Hubble, of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723.
It’s s a gravitational lens, showing us the light of galaxies that are far behind the cluster in arcs around it. I tried to orient them the same. LOOK AT THE DIFFERENCE. pic.twitter.com/8jphIUHRjn
— Sophia Gad-Nasr (@Astropartigirl) July 11, 2022
The light from the initial stars and galaxies has actually been “stretched” from lower visible wavelengths to larger infrared ones because the cosmos has been expanding for 13.8 billion years. This is what enables Webb to observe the universe in previously unseen levels of detail. Although that may particularity look pretty to us, astronomers, astrophysicists, and cosmologists will find a wealth of new information and knowledge there.
However, experts are intrigued by this image for another reason: It offers the best possible view into the past in terms of both space and time. It’s not just an image of any old space, either. You can make out the faint outline of a spherical-like object at its center, which is surrounded by bent and deformed galaxies. This is a gravitational lens, which is a natural, yet perplexing, aspect of the universe that Einstein’s theory of general relativity predicted.
This image is a small window of possibility of new ways of understanding our universe and how it came to be.
In other important space-related news, Jessica Watkins is the first Black woman on an International Space Station crew.
Photo via NASA