October 1, 2022

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Graphic of the James Webb space telescope, successor to Hubble.

The James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful observatory to be placed in orbit, has revealed the “deepest and sharpest infrared image of the early universe” ever taken, going back 13 billion years, NASA said Monday.

The stunning shot, revealed in a White House briefing by President Joe Biden, is overflowing with thousands of galaxies and features the faintest objects ever observed, colorized from infrared to blue, orange and white tones.

Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, it shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, which acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it.

Webb compiled the composite shot in 12.5 hours, achieving well beyond what the Hubble Space Telescope could in weeks.

– First targets –

Carina Nebula is famous for its towering pillars that include “Mystic Mountain,” a three-light-year-tall cosmic pinnacle captured in an iconic image by the Hubble Space Telescope, until now humanity’s premier space observatory.

Nearly 1,150 light-years from Earth, WASP-96 b is about half the mass of Jupiter and zips around its star in just 3.4 days.

“It’s like being in a room that is very dark and you only have a little pinhole you can look through,” he said of the prior technology. Now, with Webb, “You’ve opened a huge window, you can see all the little details.”

Launched in December 2021 from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket, Webb is orbiting the Sun at a distance of a million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth, in a region of space called the second Lagrange point.

A wonder of engineering, the total project cost is estimated at $10 billion, making it one of the most expensive scientific platforms ever built, comparable to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN.

Charlie Atkinson, chief engineer on the James Webb Space Telescope program at lead contractor Northrop Grumman, told AFP that it wobbles no more than 17 millionths of a millimeter.

Thanks to an efficient launch, NASA estimates Webb has enough propellant for a 20-year life, as it works in concert with the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to answer fundamental questions about the cosmos.

Originally published as Webb telescope reveals clearest infrared image of early universe

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