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The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a unique perspective of the universe, including never-before-seen galaxies that sparkle like diamonds in the cosmos.
The new image, shared Wednesday as part of a study published in the Astronomical Journal, was taken as part of the Prime Extragalactic Areas for Reionization and Lensing Science observing program, called PEARLS.
It is one of the first medium-deep-field images of the universe, where “deep-mid” means the faintest visible objects, and “wide-field” refers to the region of the cosmos captured in the image.
“Webb’s stunning image quality is truly out of this world,” study co-author Anton Koekemoer, a research astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, who pieced together the PEARLS images into mosaics, said in a statement. “To glimpse very rare galaxies at the dawn of cosmic time, we need deep images over a large area, which this PEARLS field provides.”
The Webb telescope focused on a part of the sky called the North Ecliptic Pole and was able to use eight different colors of near-infrared light to see celestial objects that are 1 billion times fainter than can be seen with the eye naked.
Thousands of galaxies shine from a wide range of distances, and some of the light in the image has traveled nearly 13.5 billion years to reach us.
“I was blown away by the first images of PEARLS,” study co-author Rolf Jansen, a researcher at Arizona State University and coinvestigator of PEARLS, said in a statement.
“I didn’t know when I selected this field near the North Pole of the ecliptic that it would produce such a treasure trove of distant galaxies and that we would get direct clues about the processes by which galaxies assemble and grow,” he said. “I can see streams and tails and shells and halos of stars in their suburbs, the leftovers of their bricks.”
The researchers combined the Webb data with three colors of ultraviolet and visible light captured by the Hubble Space Telescope to create the image. Together, the wavelengths of light from both telescopes reveal unprecedented depth and detail of a wealth of galaxies in the universe. Many of these distant galaxies have always eluded Hubble, as well as ground-based telescopes.
The image represents only a portion of the entire PEARLS field, which will be approximately four times larger. The mosaic is even better than scientists expected after running simulations in the months before Webb began making science observations in July.
“There are many objects that I never thought we’d actually be able to see, including individual globular clusters around distant elliptical galaxies, star-forming nodes within spiral galaxies, and thousands of faint background galaxies,” he said. said study co-author Jake Summers, a research assistant at Arizona State University, in a statement.
Other pinpoints of light in the image represent a series of stars in our galaxy, the Milky Way.
Measuring the scattered light in front of and behind the stars and galaxies in the image is like “encoding the history of the universe” because it tells a story of cosmic evolution, according to study co-author Rosalia O’Brien, a graduate research assistant at the ‘Arizona State University, in a statement.
The PEARLS team hopes to see more objects in this region in the future, such as stars exploding in the distance or flares of light around black holes, as they vary in brightness.
“This unique field is designed to be Webb-observable 365 days a year, so its time-domain legacy, area covered, and depth achieved can only get better with time,” said the study’s lead author. Rogier Windhorst, a regent professor at Arizona State University and the principal investigator of PEARLS, in a statement.