Exquisite views of distant galaxies – CNET – ApparelGeek

For decades, the Hubble Space Telescope and ground-based telescopes have provided us with spectacular images of galaxies. Everything changed when the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched in December 2021 and successfully completed its commissioning in the first half of 2022. For astronomers, the universe, as we saw it, is now revealed in new ways never before imagined by the telescope’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) instrument.

The NIRCam is Webb’s primary imager that covers the infrared wavelength range from 0.6 to 5 microns. NIRCam detects light from early forming stars and galaxies, star population in nearby galaxies, as well as young stars in Milky Way and Kuiper Belt objects.

The Prime Extragalactic Areas for Reionization and Lensing Science, or PEARLS, project is the subject of a recent study published in Astronomical Diary by a team of researchers, including Professor Rogier Windhorst, Regent of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, Researcher Rolf Jansen, Associate Researcher Seth Cohen, Research Assistant Jake Summers and the graduate associate Rosalia O’Brien, as well as the contribution of many other researchers.

For the researchers, images from the PEARLS program of early galaxies show the amount of gravitational lensing of objects in the background of massive galaxy clusters, allowing the team to see some of these very distant objects. In one of these relatively deep fields, the team worked with stunning multicolor images to identify galaxies interacting with active nuclei.

Data from Windhorst and his team shows evidence of giant black holes at their center where you can see the accretion disk – the stuff falling into the black hole, shining very brightly at the center of the galaxy. Moreover, many galactic stars appear as drops on your car windshield, as if you are driving in intergalactic space. This color field rises directly from the ecliptic plane, the plane in which the Earth and the moon, and all other planets, orbit the sun.

“For more than two decades I worked with a large international team of scientists to prepare our Webb science program,” Windhorst said. “Webb’s footage is truly phenomenal, truly beyond my wildest dreams. They allow us to measure the numerical density of galaxies that shine at very low infrared limits and the total amount of light they produce. This light is much fainter than the very dark infrared sky measured between these galaxies.”

The first thing the team can see in these new images is that many galaxies that were nearby or truly invisible to Hubble are bright in the images taken by Webb. These galaxies are so far away that the light emitted by the stars has been stretched.

The team focused on the time domain of the ecliptic’s north pole with the Webb Telescope, easily visible due to its location in the sky. Windhorst and the team plan to observe it four times.

Early observations, consisting of two overlapping tiles, produced an image that shows objects as dim as 10 fireflies at the moon’s distance (with the moon not there). The ultimate limit for Webb is one or two fireflies. The faintest, reddest objects visible in the image are distant galaxies that date back to the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

For most of Jansen’s career he worked with cameras on the ground and in space, where you have a single instrument with a single camera producing an image. Now scientists have an instrument that has not just one detector or one image coming out of it, but 10 simultaneously. For each exposure taken by NIRCam, it gives 10 of these images. That’s a huge amount of data, and the sheer volume can be overwhelming.

To process this data and funnel it through the analytics software to collaborators around the world, Summers was instrumental.

“The JWST images far exceed what we expected from my simulations before the first scientific observations,” Summers said. “Analyzing these JWST images, I was very surprised by their exquisite resolution.”

Jansen’s main interest is in understanding how galaxies like our own Milky Way came into being. And the way to do that is to look far back in time at how the galaxies came together, to see how they evolved, efficiently, and so trace the path from the Big Bang to people like us.

“I was blown away by the first footage from PEARLS,” Jansen said. “I had no idea when I selected this field near the north pole of the ecliptic that it would yield such a treasure trove of distant galaxies, and that we would get direct clues to the processes by which galaxies come together. and grow – I can see streams, tails, shells and star rings in their periphery, the remains of their building blocks.”

Third-year astrophysics graduate student O’Brien has devised algorithms to measure the faint light between the galaxies and stars that first catch our attention.

“The diffuse light I measured between stars and galaxies has cosmological significance, encoding the history of the universe,” O’Brien said. “I feel lucky to be starting my career right now – JWST data is unlike anything we’ve ever seen, and I’m excited about the opportunities and challenges it presents.”

“I expect this field to be monitored throughout the JWST mission, to reveal objects that move, vary in brightness, or briefly flare up, such as supernovae exploding at a distance or accumulating around black holes in active galaxies,” Jansen said.

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Exquisite views of distant galaxies – CNET – ApparelGeek

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