A Fascinating Look At NASA's Space Telescope's First Month Capturing The Universe

jwst first
A new study utilizing data from the first month of images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has revealed hidden details about galaxies during the first billion years of cosmic history. While the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has been able to unveil much of the early universe, JWST is allowing scientists and astronomers the ability to see fainter galaxies in greater detail than ever before.

Even though the Webb telescope has only been sending full resolution images back for a little over a month now, it has already allowed researchers to determine that the adolescent phase of the universe was much more complicated than previously thought. An international team known as GLASS, which includes Professor Glazebrook and colleague Colin Jacobs from the James Webb Australian Data Centre at Swinburne University, is utilizing the first images from JWST to unlock new data and mysteries from some of the earliest galaxies.

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Image Credit: Colin Jacobs and Karl Glazebrook/Swinburne University

The Hubble telescope was able to reveal galaxies which formed between 2 and 5 billion years after the Big Bang, but the images only showed as unstructured blobs. Translated images from Webb into the color range the human eye can see are now revealing galaxies as they appeared 8 and 11 billion years ago.

"We can see fainter galaxies than ever before, we can see more detail than ever before, and now we can see what the human eye would see at these very ancient times," explained Dr. Jacobs.

The GLASS team is not the only one taking a deep dive into the early images of JWST. Researchers all over the world are in a "feeding frenzy" as they all try and uncover as much as possible from the more detailed imagery that Webb is producing.

"People are pouncing on it at once because it's a once-in-a-lifetime snapshot of part of the universe we couldn't see before," remarked Dr. Jacobs.

So far, the earliest galaxy detected from the first image produced by Webb last month of SMACS 0723 is estimated to have appeared about 700 million years after the Big Bang. However, several different teams have identified potential galaxies that are even older. While these new contenders still need to be proven out, they would smash the expectations most had for JWST, as well as challenge theories of the early universe.

galaxy ngc9764
Image Credit: NASA/ESA/Judy Schmidt

One of the images JWST has captured is of NGC 7496, a bar galaxy that lies 24 million light-years from Earth. Dr. Robin Cook of the University of Western Australia describes this galaxy as not only having spiral arms, but as having "this very distinct bar running through it." Dr. Cook explains that this is actually common, and that it is thought our own Milky Way has a bar.

One of the spectacular images that have been officially released by NASA shows the Cartwheel Galaxy. This rare ring-shaped galaxy resides some 500 million light-years away in the constellation of Sculptor, and is believed to have gotten its shape by colliding with another galaxy that has since made its exit. As the hit and run galaxy slammed into the Cartwheel galaxy, it produced an effect similar to that of a rock being dropped into a pond. It first pushed the material outward, and then funneling back into the center.

cartwheel galaxy
Image Credit: NASA/ESA

Dr. Cook adds that the new images of the Cartwheel galaxy reveal more information about the star-forming areas around the edge. "The mid-infrared image really focuses on the dust that's being heated up by a new star formation." Cook says that Hubble didn't really show the heating up of all the dust.

As more and more images are sent back from the Webb telescope, there are bound to be many more discoveries being made. One of the current candidate galaxies is thought to have formed only 180 million years after the Big Bang. Dr. Glazebrook predicts researchers will know in a few months, following more research into the data, as to the validity of many of the claims that are being made thus far. So, stay tuned.

Top Image Credit: NASA/ESA