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James Webb Space Telescope: How Nasa pictured galaxies from the past

James Webb Space Telescope: How Nasa pictured galaxies from the past

The image captured thousands of galaxies, including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared, that appeared in the telescope’s view for the first time.

The new James Webb Space Telescope photo captures just a slice of the vast universe, covering “a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground,” according to Nasa.

But the galaxies seen in the image do not appear as they are now—they have been captured as they were billions of years ago.

How did the James Webb Space Telescope capture galaxies from the past?

The galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 was captured in the image as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago.

Nasa explained how they were able to see such distant galaxies, and said: “The combined mass of this galaxy cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it.

“Webb’s NIRCam has brought those distant galaxies into sharp focus – they have tiny, faint structures that have never been seen before, including star clusters and diffuse features.”

Nasa further explains how the telescope is able to see galaxies from billions of years ago, saying: “Ultraviolet and visible light emitted by the very first luminous objects has been stretched or ‘redshifted’ by the universe’s continual expansion and arrives today as infrared light.

“Webb is designed to ‘see’ this infrared light with unprecedented resolution and sensitivity.”

The picture was taken using Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and is a composite made from images at different wavelengths.

Nasa also said that “researchers will soon begin to learn more about the galaxies’ masses, ages, histories, and compositions, as Webb seeks the earliest galaxies in the universe.”

President Biden Previews Image from Webb Space Telescope

/ NASA via Getty Images

What is the James Webb Space Telescope?

The James Webb Space Telescope, which was launched on December 25, 2021, will study “every phase of cosmic history” including the “most distant observable galaxies in the early universe,” such as stars and galaxies formed more than 13.5 billion years ago.

The aim of the telescope is to “explore a wide range of science questions to help us understand the origins of the universe and our place in it.”

As well as capturing early galaxies, the Webb telescope will also study planets in our solar system “to determine their origin and evolution and compare them with exoplanets,” which are planets that orbit other stars.

It will also observe regions where a planet could have liquid water on its surface to determine if and where there could be signs of life.

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