A new 3D visualization from the James Webb Space Telescope takes viewers on a journey back in time just after the Big Bang.
The video shows more than 5,000 galaxies in beautiful colors and three dimensions. The cosmic journey begins with relatively nearby galaxies located within a few billion light-years of Earth and ends with Maisie’s Galaxy, which, at 13.4 billion light-years from Earth, is one of the most distant galaxies ever observed by humanity and is seen as it was only about 390 million years after the Big Bang.
As such, this new video from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) represents not only a journey through space, but also a journey back through time, rewinding cosmic evolution to a period when the 13.8 billion-year-old universe was under a third of his current age.
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The video is the result of data collected by the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS) and explores an area of space called the Extended Groth Strip. The Extended Groth Strip is located between the constellations Ursa Major and Boötes and contains about 100,000 galaxies. It was imaged extensively by the Hubble Space Telescope between 2004 and 2005, and the new JWST observations build on the foundations laid by Hubble.
Of particular interest to astronomers in this visualization is Maisie’s Galaxy, which serves as an example of the kind of early galaxy the JWST can study. The powerful space telescope does this by observing the universe in infrared.
This is useful because light from early galaxies travels billions of years to reach us, the expansion and the universe and the fact that it loses energy causes the wavelength to “stretch”. This results in electromagnetic radiation leaving the galaxies shortly after the Big Bang as optical light that became “red-shifted” along the electromagnetic spectrum beyond the red end of the visible light spectrum to infrared. The longer light has traveled, the more extreme the redshift it experiences, making infrared the best way to see early galaxies.
“This observatory just opens up this entire period for us to study,” Rochester Institute of Technology researcher and CEERS researcher Rebecca Larson said in a statement. “We couldn’t study galaxies like Maisie’s before because we couldn’t see them. Now we can not only find them in our images, we can find out what they are made of and
whether they are different from the galaxies we see nearby. “
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The goal of studies using the CEERS data is to learn more about the formation of early galaxies.
“We are used to thinking that galaxies grow smoothly,” Finkelstein concluded. “But maybe these stars are forming like fireworks. Are these galaxies forming more stars than expected? Are the stars they make more massive than we expect? This data has given us the information to ask these questions. Now we need more data to answer those to get answers.”