NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope continues to amaze, this time with an exquisite image revealing never-before-seen galaxies in an area known as the northern ecliptic pole.
The image is one of the few medium-depth wide-field images of our cosmos and shows thousands of galaxies over a bewildering range of distances, stretching to the edges of the universe, while being dotted with stars of our own Milky Way. New James Webb Space Telescope (Webb or JWST), which comes from the Prime Extragalactic Areas for Reionization and Lensing Science (PEARLS) program, also highlights a number of interacting galaxies.
“I was blown away by the first images from PEARLS,” said Rolf Jansen, an astronomer at Arizona State University and co-investigator of PEARLS, in a statement.
“I had no idea when I selected this field near the north pole of the ecliptic that it would yield such a treasure trove of distant galaxies and that we would get direct clues to the processes by which galaxies assemble and grow,” he said. “I can see streams, tails, shells and star halos in their periphery, the remnants of their building blocks.”
Gallery: The first photos from the James Webb Space Telescope
Webb’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) captured the twinkling scene, which covers a portion of the sky measuring 2% of the area covered by the full moon. The image was constructed using eight different colors of near-infrared light collected by NIRCam, augmented with three colors of ultraviolet and visible light from the The Hubble Space Telescope.
“Medium-deep” refers to the faintest objects that can be seen in this image, which are about 1 billion times fainter than what can be seen with the naked eye, according to a NASA statement. The PEARLS program focuses on gravitational lens objects in the background of galactic clusters; these clusters are so massive that they distort spacetime, magnifying the light of objects behind them.
The location of this particular sky field, at the north pole of the ecliptic, means it can also be watched at any time of the year and not be blocked by the sun in JWST orbits. Regular views mean JWST can see what’s appearing on the ground, promising opportunities for time-domain astronomy, which focuses on how astronomical objects change over time.
“Such monitoring will enable the discovery of time-varying objects like distant explosive supernovae and glowing accretion gas around black holes in active galaxies, which should be detectable at greater distances than ever before,” said said Anton Koekemoer, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. (STScI) in Maryland, which operates JWST, and a member of the PEARLS team, said in the statement.
The research is described in a paper published Wednesday, December 14 in the Astronomical Journal.
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