NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has produced the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date.
Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, this image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is overflowing with detail.
Thousands of galaxies -- including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared -- have appeared in Webb’s view for the first time.
The full-color infrared image came on the eve of a larger unveiling of photos and spectrographic data that NASA plans to showcase on Tuesday at the Goddard Space Flight Center in suburban Maryland.
The image, captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful to be placed in orbit, covers a patch of the sky "roughly the size of a grain of sand held at arm's length by someone standing on earth", NASA administrator Bill Nelson said.
"It is the deepest image of our universe that has ever been taken," Nelson said in a statement, adding that the rest of the high-resolution colour images will make their debut on July 12.
"We are looking back at more than 13 billion years. The light that you are seeing on one of these little specks has been travelling for 13 billion years," he said.
That makes it just 800 million years younger than the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that set the expansion of the known universe in motion some 13.8 billion years ago.
This deep field, taken by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), is a composite made from images at different wavelengths, totaling 12.5 hours -- achieving depths at infrared wavelengths beyond the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest fields, which took weeks.
Releasing the image, United States President Joe Biden said, "Today is a historic day... This is a historic moment, for America and all of humanity."
US Vice President Kamala Harris expressed her excitement during the preview of the images.
"This is a very exciting moment for all of us. Today is an exciting new chapter for the universe," she said.
The full series of Webb’s first full-color images and data, known as spectra, will stream live on NASA's website, and opening remarks by NASA leadership and the Webb team will begin at 9:45 am ET on Tuesday, followed by an image release broadcast that will kickstart at 10:30 am.
Images will be revealed one by one followed by a news conference at 12:30 pm ET .
As per CNN, NASA shared Webb's first cosmic targets on Friday, providing a teaser for what else Tuesday's image release will include: the Carina Nebula, WASP-96b, the Southern Ring Nebula and Stephan's Quintet.
The Carina Nebula is a stellar nursery located 7,600 light-years away, where stars are born and is also one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky and home to many stars much more massive than our sun.
Discovered in 2014, WASP-96b is located 1,150 light-years from Earth. It has half the mass of Jupiter and completes an orbit around its star every 3.4 days.
Notably, the Southern Ring Nebula, also called the "Eight-Burst," is 2,000 light-years away from Earth. This large planetary nebula includes an expanding cloud of gas around a dying star.
The space telescope's view of Stephan's Quintet will reveal the way galaxies interact with one another. This compact galaxy group, first discovered in 1787, is located 290 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. Four of the five galaxies in the group "are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters," according to a NASA statement.
The targets were selected by an international committee, including members from NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.
The Webb Telescope is one of the most powerful telescopes launched into space.
As per a statement by NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, this mission has enough excess fuel capacity to operate for 20 years.
"Webb can see backwards in time just after the big bang by looking for galaxies that are so far away, the light has taken many billions of years to get from those galaxies to ourselves," said Jonathan Gardner, Webb's deputy senior project scientist at NASA in a statement during a conference.
"Webb is bigger than Hubble so that it can see fainter galaxies that are further away," he said.
With inputs from ANI