The clearest image to date of the early universe, going back 13 billion years, has been released – and it doesn’t disappoint. The stunning shot, released in a White House briefing by President Joe Biden, is overflowing with thousands of galaxies and features some of the faintest objects observed, colorized in blue, orange and white tones.
The image, captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful to be placed in orbit, covers a patch of the sky “roughly the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone standing on earth”, NASA administrator Bill Nelson said.
“We are looking back at more than 13 billion years. The light that you are seeing on one of these little specks has been travelling for 13 billion years,” he said. That makes it just 800 million years younger than the Big Bang, the theoretical flashpoint that set the expansion of the known universe in motion some 13.8 billion years ago.
The full-color image came on the eve of a larger unveiling of photos and spectrographic data that NASA plans to showcase on Tuesday at the Goddard Space Flight Center in suburban Maryland.
Releasing the image, US President Joe Biden said, “Today is a historic day… This is a historic moment, for America and all of humanity.
US Vice President Kamala Harris expressed her excitement during the preview of the images. “This is a very exciting moment for all of us. Today is an exciting new chapter for the universe,” she said.
“The release of these first images marks the official beginning of Webb’s science operations, which will continue to explore the mission’s key science themes,” NASA said about the images.
Images from the $10 billion James Webb Telescope, which are being released after a six-month process of remotely unfurling the observatory’s various components, usher in a revolutionary era of astronomical discovery.
NASA revealed James Webb’s first five cosmic targets on Friday. These include: the Carina Nebula, WASP-96b, the Southern Ring Nebula, Stephan’s Quintet and SMACS 0723. The targets were selected by an international committee, including members from NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.