In a surprise shakeup, President Joe Biden today (July 12) unveiled the first scientific image released by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), NASA’s next-generation infrared observatory.
The spectacular image, taken by JWST’s Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam), is the highest resolution image of the infrared universe ever captured. Made possible by a fortuitous alignment, the image features SMACS 0723, a massive galaxy cluster in the foreground that magnifies and distorts our view of more distant cosmic objects behind it.
“If you hold a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arm’s length, that’s the part of the universe you see – just a tiny grain of the universe,” the NASA administrator said. , Bill Nelson, during the announcement. Thanks to a phenomenon known as gravitational lensing, where massive collections of foreground galaxies serve as magnifying lenses for more distant objects, “we’re looking back more than 13 billion years,” Nelson said. The gravitational lens allows astronomers to study the most distant galaxies in the universe, those that would otherwise remain beyond the reach of the most powerful telescopes.
NASA plans to release the remaining four images and data that make up JWST’s first set of science observations tomorrow (July 12) at 9:30 a.m. CT. You can watch the live image stream below, courtesy of NASA TV.