After unveiling a first “test” but already amazing image on Monday evening, the James Webb Telescope unveiled new color shots on Tuesday.
A long-awaited first image, more than six months after the super-telescope was launched on an Ariane V rocket on Christmas Day 2021.
> Video – Relive the takeoff of the rocket that James Webb launched from Queiroz, French Guiana:
NASA unveiled the snapshot on Monday evening in the presence of US President Joe Biden, who hailed the moment as “historic”.
We were able to discover numerous galaxies and stars against the dark sky background.
Universe as seen immediately after creation
But best of all, the snapshot allows us to observe the universe as it was… 13.1 billion years ago, right after the Big Bang. How? Because of the speed of light.
In concrete terms, what we see in this image is billions of light years away. Light from this object took 13.1 billion years to reach the telescope.
which is “only” 1.5 million km from Earth: the information it sends towards Earth takes only a few seconds to reach us at the speed of light (300,000 km/s).
An impression of enormity in a very small part of the universe
Tame photos with illuminated elements, seem to cover a very wide field. However, this is not the case: what this image shows can be “hidden by a grain of sand at arm’s length” from Earth, explains Eric Lagder, astrophysicist and president of the French Society of Astronomy and Astrophysics.
This short animation shows how tiny the portion of the universe captured by the telescope is:
In detail, the photo shows dots and bright clusters in the shape of a cross. Some have an intense white color, others a dark orange or even red color.
The more objects appear red, the further away they are
“Light from the most distant galaxies is red-shifted,” Eric Lagadek explains. “And the red galaxies are therefore farthest from the telescope”.
The cross-shaped dots are stars, and the bright clusters are galaxies. Each of them contains billions of stars. And perhaps an infinite number of planets, as Eric Lagadek elaborates:
This Tuesday, NASA unveiled the first full images of the most powerful space telescope ever designed:
We were able to discover incredible photographs of two nebulae depicting the life cycle of stars, an exoplanet and a compact group of galaxies.
Each image is a new discovery. Each will give mankind a view of the universe that we have never seen before.
Bill Nelson, NASA CEO
The last cosmic object whose observations were published Tuesday is an exoplanet, that is, a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun, one of James Webb’s main lines of research:
It was not actually photographed, but analyzed by spectroscopy, a technique used to determine the chemical composition of a distant object. In this case, WASP-96 b is a giant planet composed mainly of gas.
In search of water vapor
By combining data previously obtained by other telescopes and James Webb, “we will probably be able to detect water vapor in its atmosphere”, estimated Jose A. Caballero, an astronomer and exoplanet specialist at the Centro de Astrobiologia in Spain.
The data “will be interesting for me to see the capabilities of the telescopes and instruments”, he added, even if he finds this first exoplanet a bit “boring”, and looking at relatively small and less hot ones.
One of the primary missions of James Webb — a $10 billion engineering feat and the most powerful space telescope ever designed — was to explore the “early years” of the universe. Or rather the first hundred million years: it is estimated that the Big Bang happened 13.7 billion years ago, and those telescope images show the universe 600 million years later.
20 years of fuel!
As a result of a huge international collaboration, and in the project since the 1990s, it is located 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.
The publication of these first images marks the beginning of a huge scientific adventure, which will extend over many years and change our understanding of the universe: researchers from all over the world have reserved observation time with James Webb, whose program for the first year of operation is already a committee of experts. has been carefully determined by, and published.
The telescope has enough fuel to run for 20 years. About 20,000 people worked on the project around the world, creating a huge international collaboration.