NASA released the first of a series of images taken by the new James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on Monday.
The new image gave an unprecedented look at deepest space — and was a stunning improvement over 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 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 captures a different spectrum than a conventional camera. As well as getting better results than Hubble, JWST works quicker. Hubble took weeks to scan its image of deep space, 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 around 4.6 billion years ago.
The huge time frame is a consequence of how far the light takes to travel from deep space to the telescopes orbiting Earth.
This area of space is particularly interesting for astronomers as the galaxies’ gravitational pull distorts the light of more distant galaxies behind them, a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing.
Examples of the light being distorted by the galaxies can be seen below:
Cosmologist Katie Mack explained gravitational lensing in more detail 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, by Insider’s Morgan McFall-Johnsen.
It will also be looking for planets outside of our solar system that could host life.
More pictures from the JWST are expected to be released shortly, by NASA.
The next pictures 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 form.
- WASP-96 b (spectrum): WASP-96 b is a giant planet outside of the solar system composed mainly of gas.
- Southern Ring Nebula: an expanding cloud of gas, surrounding a dying star approximately 2,000 light-years away from Earth.
- Stephan’s Quintet: located in the constellation Pegasus, it is the first compact galaxy group ever discovered in 1877, about 290 million light-years away.