JWST’s infrared capabilities reveal early galaxies in young universe

Astronomers see infrared light up in the young universe

Four distant galaxies in SMACS 0723. Analysis of the very first image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows that the infrared telescope is revealing details of galaxies from when the universe was only about 1 billion years old. Left: The first image with four galaxies highlighted. On the right, the four galaxies each seen with a different telescope or instrument. HST is the Hubble Space Telescope. JWST/NIRCam is the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument. JWST/MIRI is the James Webb Space Telescope’s MIRI instrument. A striking example is that the galaxy ID 367 cannot be seen with Hubble. Credit: JWST/E. Iani & K. Caputi

Analysis of the very first image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows that the MIRI instrument, developed in the Netherlands, is performing even better than expected. Researchers from the University of Groningen demonstrate that the infrared telescope shows details of galaxies from when the universe was only about 1 billion years old. This period is important for astronomers because it was when the first galaxies formed. The analysis will soon appear in The Astrophysical Journal.

For the past 20 years, researchers have had to rely on infrared images from Spitzer. This telescope could only look at long wavelengths until about 2 to 3 billion years after the Big Bang. “You might think Webb’s billion years doesn’t matter much,” says research leader Edoardo Iani (University of Groningen). “But you’re just at the time when the first galaxies were forming. So we’re very happy with our findings.”

Thanks to infrared image From the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers were able to spot, among other things, galaxies that had not yet been discovered. They were also able to more accurately calculate the number of stars present in very young, distant galaxies. The reason past estimates with the Hubble Space Telescope were inaccurate is that they didn’t collect much of the visible light originally, as it was stretched by the expansion of the universe.

Analysis co-author Karina Caputi (University of Groningen) expects more and deeper images to become available soon. “Maybe it will allow us to step into the Dark Ages a bit. When we designed the MIRI Instrumentwe had secretly hoped to achieve this, but now it looks like it will actually happen.”

Astronomers see infrared light up in the young universe

First photo of Webb from early July 2022. The photo differs slightly from the one used by the Groningen researchers. The one from the Groningen researchers is tilted a few degrees to the right and features sharper colors thanks to improved image processing. 1 credit

About MIRI

MIRI was developed by NASA and ESA with several European partners. The MIRI spectrometer was realized through the efforts of the Netherlands School of Astronomical Research (NOVA) and research institutes in the UK and Germany. The design and construction was carried out by the NOVA Optical-Infrared group at ASTRON in Dwingeloo in collaboration with several other Dutch institutes and universities.

“A First Look at the Nature of the 7.7 Micron JWST/MIRI Sources of SMACS 0723” has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.

More information:
Edoardo Iani et al, A First Look at the Nature of the 7.7 Micron JWST/MIRI Sources of SMACS 0723, arXiv (2022). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2208.06364. Accepted for publication in The Journal of Astrophysics.

Quote: JWST Infrared Capabilities Reveal Early Universe Galaxies (November 16, 2022) Retrieved November 16, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-11-infrared-capabilities-jwst-reveal-earliest.html

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