NASA’s Webb Space Telescope Reveals Glittering Universe With Its Largest Image Ever

For the James Webb Space Telescope, milestones were unyielding. Just over a month since this groundbreaking instrument left mankind in awe after the release of its first intergalactic images, nebula portraits and stellar artifacts, it has gifted us its largest image yet.

Last week, international scientists affiliated with the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey, or CEERS, presented a huge, full-color mosaic resulting from data collected by the JWST. It’s a record-breaking mural known as Epoch 1, covering a small patch of sky near the handle of the Ursa Major constellation.

A pixelated image with a red dot against a black void

This pixelated red dot could be a galaxy that existed just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang — also known as Maisie’s galaxy. The scale bar is 1 kiloparsec (about 3,260 light-years).

Finkelstein et al. (2022)/NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI

The CEERS collaboration is already revealing sneak peeks from Epoch 1, many of which have sent astronomers down the JWST rabbit hole and published articles about galactic goodies within. For example, CEERS project leader Steven Finkelstein announced the submission of a paper last month regarding a “very compelling” candidate for a galaxy that could have existed just 290 million years after the Big Bang. It’s called Maisie’s galaxy, to his daughter, because it was discovered on her birthday.

But now CEERS says Epoch 1 is officially completed.

For the context of how utterly big In this latest image, the team explains that it covers an area roughly eight times the size of the JWST’s first deep field, which was released on July 11 and was already mind-bogglingly huge. The culminating mosaic consists of 690 individual frames captured with the JWST’s near-infrared camera, and it will be built upon by observations due in December.

“Epoch 1 covers less than half of our total sky survey area and the images have already led to new discoveries and an unexpected, but not unwelcome, abundance of never-before-seen galaxies,” the CEERS team said in a press release. .

You can download a medium or high-resolution version of the photo here — but if you’re shooting for the latter, as I absolutely did, CEERS recommends using a computer or laptop. Because of how gigantic that file is, your cell phone can start acting up.

OK, now that you’ve successfully accessed the image, let’s go over some highlights. According to the CEERS team, there are six primary focus areas. Here’s a schedule.

This is the full schematic of the CEERS Epoch 1 image. Below are close-ups of some of the highlights in the mosaic.

NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

First, (1) there is the spiral galaxy at the top left, which emits a redshift of z = 0.16.

Redshift is essentially astronomers’ way of measuring how far, and thus back in time, an object is. It is named for the fact that, as a luminous object slides farther from our vantage point, the light it emits becomes redder and redder… and redder, eventually falling into the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum and becoming invisible to the human eye. But fear not, because the JWST can also collect that “invisible” light, which is also why it promises to reveal an “unfiltered universe”, a phrase you may have seen thrown around online.

And in short, a greater redshift means that something is further away from Earth.

Next (2) to the center of the image is a bright galaxy with a redshift of z = 1.05. This spot also contains several smaller galaxies that appear in an arc-shaped format when viewed with the JWST. On August 15, Rebecca Larson, an astronomy doctoral student at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the CEERS collaboration, tweeted her adorable name for this scene.

“TBT late one night when I decided this galaxy… looked like Pacman and proceeded to overlap the little yellow guy and laugh so hard we all decided it was time to go home,” Larson wrote:.

To the right of that set, (3), is an interactive system of galaxies at z = 1.4. Finkelstein called this the “Space Kraken,” Larson tweeted. It strangely resembles the scary old sea monster.

Move another one, (4), and you’ll see some spiral galaxies — in the enlarged version at the bottom of the diagram, a white arrow points to a supernova in this part of the sky also discovered by the JWST. Redshift here is z = 0.7. CEERS published a paper last month on these phenomena in particular, as comparing the duo’s JWST version to that of the Hubble Space Telescope would have yielded a lot of new information.

Below that, (5), is another special spiral galaxy at z = 0.7, and finally, (6), is az = 0.63 galaxy with a tidal tail and a group of red galaxies in the background falling at z = 1 ,85. “I tried to call this feature a ‘hot mess,’ but the press said ‘no,'” Larson tweeted about this chaotic landscape.

And, of course, CEERS also highlights Maisie’s galaxy in a close-up diagram below. If Finkelstein and colleagues are right about this specimen that exists 290 million light-years after the Big Bang, it has a staggering redshift of z = 14. In addition, it would actually prove that galaxies started forming much earlier in the Universe than astronomers once thought.

The dark background of the room shows different angles of Maisie's galaxy.  The closest version of the image is at the bottom left and shows a reddish light spot.

Here is an image of the galaxy known as Maisie’s Milky Way.

NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

Due to the plethora of ultra-distant galaxy candidates spotted since the JWST was turned on, many scientists are wary of the possibility of false hope. For example, a paper published earlier this month by CEERS staff in The Astrophysical Journal highlights the possibility of error when viewing these high redshift realms. Unrelated cosmic phenomena could in fact bombard the data and thereby contaminate the results.

Nevertheless, the new era of astronomy we find ourselves in is aggressively exciting.

“I hope you’re as awestruck and excited about this telescope and its data as I have been. I’m so lucky to be able to share them with you and I hope you find your new favorite galaxies in them too!” Finally, Larson tweeted a brilliant thread on the CEERS map.


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