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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 diarywas taken as part of the Prime Extragalactic Areas for Reionization and Lensing Science observing program, called PEARLS.
It is one of the first medium-depth-widefield images of the universe, with “medium-depth” meaning the faintest objects visible, and “widefield” referring to the region of the cosmos captured in the image.
“The amazing image quality of Webb is truly out of this world,” said study co-author Anton Koekemoer, a research astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, who assembled the PEARLS images into mosaics, 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 billions of times fainter than can be seen with the naked eye.
Thousands of galaxies shine from a variety of distances, and some of the light in the image has traveled nearly 13.5 billion years to reach us.
“I was impressed with the early images of PEARLS,” said study co-author Rolf Jansen, a research scientist at Arizona State University and a PEARLS co-investigator, in a statement.
“Little did I know when I selected this field near the North Pole of the Ecliptic that it would produce a 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 halos of stars in their surroundings, the remains of their building blocks.”
The researchers combined Webb’s 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 large number 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 part of the full PEARLS field, which will be about four times larger. The mosaic is even better than scientists expected after running simulations in the months before Webb began making scientific observations in July.
“There are many objects that I never thought we could actually see, including individual globular clusters around distant elliptical galaxies, star-forming knots within spiral galaxies, and thousands of faint galaxies in the background,” said study co-author Jake Summers, an assistant research team at Arizona State University, in a statement.
Other points of light in the image represent a range of stars in our Milky Way galaxy.
Measuring the diffuse light in front of and behind the stars and galaxies in the image is like “coding 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 University Arizona State. University, in a statement.
The PEARLS team expects more objects to be seen in this region in the future, such as distant exploding stars or flashes of light around black holes, as they vary in brightness.
“This unique field is designed to be observable with Webb 365 days a year, so its time-domain legacy, area covered, and depth reached can only improve with time,” said the study’s lead author, Rogier Windhorst, Regents Professor at Arizona State University. and the principal investigator of PEARLS, in a statement.
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