This new image, captured by the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope as part of the Prime Extragalactic Areas for Reionization and Lensing Science (PEARLS) project, shows very early galaxies in a region of the sky known as the North Ecliptic Pole.
“I was blown away by the first PEARLS images,” said co-author Dr. Rolf Jansen, an astronomer with Arizona State University.
“Little did I know, when I selected this field near the North Ecliptic Pole, that it would yield such a treasure trove of distant galaxies, and that we would get direct clues about the processes by which galaxies assemble and grow — I can see streams, tails, shells and halos of stars in their outskirts, the leftovers of their building blocks.”
This new PEARLS image is composed of eight different colors of near-infrared light captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), augmented with three colors of ultraviolet and visible light from the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope.
The beautiful color image unveils in unprecedented detail and to exquisite depth a Universe full of galaxies to the furthest reaches, many of which were previously unseen by Hubble or the largest ground-based telescopes, as well as an assortment of stars within our own Milky Way Galaxy.
The NIRCam observations will be combined with spectra obtained with Webb’s Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), allowing Dr. Jansen and colleagues to search for faint objects with spectral emission lines, which can be used to estimate their distances more accurately.
“Webb’s images are truly phenomenal, really beyond my wildest dreams,” said lead author Professor Rogier Windhorst, also from Arizona State University.
“They allow us to measure the number density of galaxies shining to very faint infrared limits and the total amount of light they produce.”
“This light is much dimmer than the very dark infrared sky measured between those galaxies.”
“The Webb images far exceed what we expected from my simulations prior to the first science observations,” said Dr. Jake Summers, also from Arizona State University.
“Analyzing these images, I was most surprised by their exquisite resolution.”
The authors also designed algorithms to measure faint light between the galaxies and stars that first catch our eye.
“The diffuse light that I measured in between stars and galaxies has cosmological significance, encoding the history of the Universe,” said Rosalia O’Brien, a graduate student Arizona State University.
“I feel fortunate to start my career right now — Webb data is like nothing we have ever seen, and I’m excited about the opportunities and challenges it offers.”
“I expect that this field will be monitored throughout the Webb mission, to reveal objects that move, vary in brightness or briefly flare up, like distant exploding supernovae or accreting gas around black holes in active galaxies,” Dr. Jansen said.
The team’s work was published in the Astronomical Journal.
Rogier A. Windhorst et al. 2022. JWST PEARLS. Prime Extragalactic Areas for Reionization and Lensing Science: Project Overview and First Results. AJ 165, 13; doi: 10.3847/1538-3881/aca163
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