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WATCH | ‘New window into the history of our universe’

12 July 2022 - 10:16 By Reuters
The first full-colour image from Nasa's James Webb Space Telescope, designed to peer through the cosmos to the dawn of the universe, shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, known as Webb’s First Deep Field.
The first full-colour image from Nasa's James Webb Space Telescope, designed to peer through the cosmos to the dawn of the universe, shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, known as Webb’s First Deep Field.
Image: Webb ERO Production Team/Handout via Reuters

Nasa has unveiled the first full-colour image from its James Webb Space Telescope, a revolutionary apparatus designed to peer through the cosmos to the dawn of the universe.

US president Joe Biden on Monday released the debut photo, an image of a galaxy cluster revealing the most detailed glimpse of the early universe ever seen.

The White House sneak peek of Webb's first high-resolution, full-colour image came on the eve of a larger unveiling of photos and spectrographic data Nasa plans to showcase on Tuesday at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

The $9bn (about R154.4bn) Webb observatory, the largest and most powerful space science telescope ever launched, ushered in a revolutionary era of astronomical discovery.

The image showcased by Biden and Nasa chief Bill Nelson showed the 4.6-billion-year-old galaxy cluster named SMACS 0723, whose combined mass acts as a “gravitational lens”, distorting space to greatly magnify the light coming from more distant galaxies behind it.

At least one of the faint, older specs of light appearing in the “background” of the photo — a composite of images of different wavelengths of light — dates back more than 13-billion years, Nelson 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 about 13.8-billion years ago.

“It's a new window into the history of our universe,” Biden said before the picture was unveiled. “And today we're going to get a glimpse of the first light to shine through that window: light from other worlds, orbiting stars far beyond our own. It's astounding to me.”

The president was joined at the Old Executive Office Building of the White House complex by vice-president Kamala Harris, who chairs the US National Space Council.


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