The scientific marvel behind the first images of James Webb

On July 11 and 12, 2022, humanity stepped into the future.

This nearly perfectly aligned composite image shows the first JWST deep-field view of the nucleus of SMACS 0723 and compares it with an older Hubble view. Looking at the details of an image that are absent from the Hubble data but present in the JWST data shows us just how much discovery possibilities lie ahead for JWST scientists.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI; NASA/ESA/Hubble (STScI); Compound by E. Siegel)

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has released its first science images, revealing the universe in unprecedented light.

jwst deep field

This enhanced view of JWST’s first deep-field image of the universe displays the brightest galaxies and the center of the cluster in order to highlight detail in the fainter, red, and farthest galaxies. This first deep show only took half a day to get through with JWST. With more than 20 years of data to come, we can only imagine what will be revealed.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI; Processed by E. Siegel)

The first image was a deep view of the galaxy SMACS 0723, whose gravity magnifies objects in the background.

A number of very different objects were detected in the JWST image of SMACS 0723, and the power of spectroscopy has enabled us to determine precisely how far away they are and how much their light is stretching through the expansion of the universe. This is strong evidence of JWST’s capabilities, as well as an illustration of the capabilities of a gravitational lens.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

Containing objects from across cosmic history, it offers deeper and more expansive views of the future.

James Webb Hubble

Part of the Hubble eXtreme Deep Field imaged for 23 days, in contrast to the simulated view predicted by James Webb in infrared. With large-area mosaics such as COSMOS-Web and PANORAMIC, the latter benefiting from pure parallel observation, coming up, we should not only break the cosmic record of the most distant galaxies, but learn what the oldest luminous objects in the universe looked like.

(Credit: NASA/ESA and Hubble/HUDF; JADES collaboration for NIRCam simulation)

But three other targets were also spotted using imaging devices, as they also revealed unexpected, never-before-seen galaxies.

This three-panel image shows the “cosmic cliffs” view of the Carina Nebula as seen by Hubble (top), JWST’s NIRCam instrument (center), and JWST’s MIRI instrument (bottom). With our first science edition, this new era in astronomy has truly arrived.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI; NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA))

Located within the Milky Way, the Carina Nebula is a dusty region rich in gas and stars.

Although difficult to identify with the eye, there are many galaxies that can be seen emerging through the clouds of cosmic cliffs in the Carina Nebula. Several are circled manually here in the image cropped for JWST’s NIRCam tool.

(Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI, processed by E. Siegel)

But many galaxies appear through obscured matter.

On the less dusty side of the Carina Nebula’s cosmic cliffs, a number of faint objects stretching between twinkling stars can be identified that inhabit the majority of this region of space. Even at the galactic plane, where the density of stars is greater and neutral matter abounds, background galaxies are abundant, and are likely to appear in practically every upcoming JWST image.

(Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI, processed by E. Siegel)

Even in this dense region of our galaxy, the universe beyond can be seen.

The JWST NIRCam image of the Southern Ring Nebula, filled with (older) Hubble data, is clearly superior in several ways: resolution, revealed detail, extent of the outer gas, etc. Like the sun ends their lives.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

The Southern Ring Nebula, a dying sun-like star within our galaxy, also reveals background sources.

Even in places where the debris of a dying star within our galaxy is brighter and more feature-rich, many background galaxies are recognizable, traversing through light-blocking dust in infrared wavelengths.

(Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI, processed by E. Siegel)

Some galaxies penetrate the tendrils of the weak nebula.

Outside the mysterious structure of the Southern Ring Nebula, the abyss of empty space is revealed by JWST’s NIRCam photographer. A large number of galaxies and candidate galaxies can be identified, even by hand. Many of these objects have never been seen before, demonstrating JWST’s power to uncover a hitherto unknown universe, even when that wasn’t the scientific goal of the imaging campaign.

(Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI, processed by E. Siegel)

Others richly occupy the space along its outskirts.

This unannotated portion of JWST’s NIRCam instrument view of the Southern Ring Nebula reveals the edges of the nebula, a chain of multi-thorny stars, and a whole host of extended objects that can be identified as background galaxies. In every region of space imaged by NIRCam, galaxies await.

(Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

Across all directions and locations, there is something amazing to expose.

This contrast between Hubble’s view of the Stephan pentagram with JWST’s NIRCam rendering reveals a series of features that are barely visible or not at all apparent with a shorter, more restricted range of wavelengths. The differences between the images highlight features that JWST could reveal that Hubble may have missed. Despite the beauty and awe that this image provides, there are no known planetary systems, in our galaxy or in any other galaxy, where humans can survive as we do on Earth.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team; NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

But JWST’s pentagonal photo of Stefan was the brightest.

Outside of the five main member galaxies that make up Stephan’s Quintet, the JWST NIRCam view reveals thousands of additional background galaxies, hundreds of which can be seen here and many not previously recognized by any other instrument or observatory.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

Galaxies of all colors,

The colors and shapes of galaxies revealed here by JWST’s NIRCam were determined not only by the intrinsic color and shape of the galaxies and the stars within them, but also by the cosmic redshift and cumulative distortion imprinted by all of the foreground masses. The accuracy of these background galaxies is unprecedented.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)


This extremely rich area of ​​the space was captured during Stephan’s Quintet presentation using JWST’s NIRCam tool. Many of these galaxies cluster together in real space, while others are merely coincidental aligned along the same line of sight. Cluster analysis of areas like this, many of which will be revealed in great detail by the JWST, could provide a tremendous amount of additional science in addition to what has been planned.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

and assembly patterns,

Just as there are many regions of space imaged that are very dense in terms of the number of galaxies and the total mass in that region, there are also regions like space that are deficient in density. JWST can detect them all, wherever you point the infrared eyes.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

It can be seen everywhere.

This region, located on the fringes of the star-forming regions resulting from the interaction of several galactic members within Stefan’s Pentagram, reveals abundant details about the formation of nearby stars in these galaxies, while at the same time revealing about background galaxies as well. The saying, “One astronomer’s noise is another astronomer’s data,” is shown in full here, where extragalactic astronomers and stars of all kinds can have a field day with what’s been revealed in this one region of space.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

We have long said, “One astronomer’s noise is another astronomer’s data.”

The MIRI view of Stefan’s pentagon displays features that cannot be seen at any other wavelength. Its highest galaxy – NGC 7319 – contains a supermassive black hole with a mass of 24 million times the mass of the Sun. It actively acquires material and produces light energy equivalent to 40 billion suns. MIRI sees through the dust surrounding this black hole to reveal the strikingly bright active galactic nucleus. It’s so shiny, for MIRI eyes, it even has its signature JWST “spike” pattern.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

For scientists who study galaxies, every upcoming JWST image contains a potential treasure trove.

James Webb nails

The first minute-phase image ever released by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope shows a single image of a star, complete with six prominent diffraction spikes (and two less prominent), with background stars and galaxies revealed behind them. The background galaxies were a surprise to astronomers. JWST depicts the universe at nearly twice the resolution of the performance the design was set for. Even such images, which were not originally designed for scientific purposes, may be useful to astronomers studying the universe as a unique and unexpected source of data.

(credit: NASA/STScI)

Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story with pictures, visuals, and no more than 200 words. taciturn; smile more.

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