NASA’s new telescope reveals never-before-seen details from the early universe, within 400 million years after the Big Bang

The James Webb Space Telescope, on the left, is 100 times more powerful than the Hubble Telescope, on the right.NASA/Chris Jean; NASA

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is revealing new galaxies that astronomers have never seen before, deep in the early universe.

Astronomers recently pointed to JWST in an object called MACS0647-JD. It is very far away, and light takes time to travel, so looking at such a distant object also looks back in time. MACS0647-JD is about 97% of the way back to the Big Bang, during the first 400 million years of the universe.

Dan Koo, a researcher with the Space Telescope Science Institute, first discovered it 10 years ago using the Hubble Space Telescope, previously NASA’s most powerful space observatory.

“With Hubble, it was just a pale red dot. We can tell it was really small, just a small galaxy in the first 400 million years of the universe. Now we look at using Webb, and we can solve two objects,” Koo said in October NASA Edition.

JWST is 100 times more powerful than Hubble, and its infrared lenses allow it to delve deeper into the deep universe and the distant past. By comparing the new JWST image to previous images from Hubble, astronomers have discovered new features of one of the oldest galaxies ever seen.

gif comparing hubble and jwst images of the same galaxy cluster projecting new galaxies behind it

Hubble and JWST MACS0647-JD images.Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Tiger Hsiao (Johns Hopkins University) Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Hubble and JWST study the early universe through a gravitational lens. This is what happens when a group of distant galaxies is so massive that it distorts spacetime, bending light from distant galaxies in the distance behind them. This creates mirror images of those galaxies, which are reflected back to us.

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So the fingerprint of the mysterious MACS0647-JD system is visible at three points in the images above. Those three outburst images of the JD system, on the right, show just how sharp the JWST images are. They clearly show two different things.

Two faint dots, one yellow, and one orange in space

One of the lenticular images of MACS0647-JD, from the James Webb Space Telescope.Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, Dan Coe (STScI), Rebecca Larson (UT), Yu-Yang Hsiao (JHU) Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

“We are actively discussing whether these are two galaxies or two groups of stars within a galaxy. We don’t know, but these are the questions the Web has designed to help us answer,” Koo said.

The research has yet to be published, but the difference between the two images is stark.

JWST could reveal galaxy mergers and other unseen actions in the early universe

This image of the galaxy pair VV 191 includes Webb's near-infrared, ultraviolet and visible light from Hubble.

A pair of interacting galaxies, imaged in Webb’s near-infrared, ultraviolet and visible light from Hubble.NASA, ESA, CSA, Roger Windhurst (ASU), William Keel (University of Alabama), Stuart Wyeth (University of Melbourne), JWST PEARLS Team, Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

One of these objects is blue, which indicates that relatively small stars are forming inside it. The other is redder, indicating an ancient body with more dust among the stars.

“We may be witnessing a merger of galaxies in the early universe. If this is the farthest merger, I’d be really happy,” Tiger Yu-Yang Hsiao, a doctoral student who studied the images alongside Kuo, said in a NASA statement. .

Two galaxies merge, one yellow, one blue and pink

Two galaxies collide and merge, as imaged by the Hubble Space Telescope.NASA, ESA, STScI, Julian Dalcanton (Center for Computational Astrophysics/Flatiron Institute and University of Washington); Joseph DePasquale (STScI)

JWST could potentially reveal galaxies more distant from the beginning of the universe. This will help scientists piece together the lost history from the first 400 million years.

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“Up until this point, we haven’t really been able to study galaxies in the early universe in great detail. We only had dozens of them before Webb. Studying them can help us understand how they evolved into galaxies like the one we live today. And also, how the universe evolved through time,” Rebecca Larson, another doctoral student who studied the images, said in a NASA statement.

She pointed to all the other small points in the new JWST image – each a distant galaxy.

Image from the Web Space Telescope

JWST image of the MACS0647-JD system, triple lensed by a massive galaxy cluster in front of it.Science: NASA, ESA, CSA, Dan Coe (STScI), Rebecca Larson (UT), Yu-Yang Hsiao (JHU) Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

“It’s amazing how much information we get that we haven’t been able to see before,” she said, adding, “and that’s not a deep field. This isn’t a long view. We haven’t even been able to really try to use this telescope to look at a single point for that long.” This is only the beginning!”

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