NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has shared a stunning image of a lone galaxy three million light-years from Earth in unprecedented detail that shows thousands of ancient twinkling stars in the region.
The Wolf–Lundmark–Melotte (WLM) dwarf galaxy was only seen by the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2016, but its instruments do not match JWST’s and the image shows the stars as blurry.
Using JWST’s powerful mechanics, NASA hopes to reconstruct the star formation history of this galaxy, which it believes formed billions of years ago – not too long after the Big Bang.
The image also shows JWST’s remarkable ability to resolve faint stars just outside the Milky Way – something that has never been possible until now.
NASA shared on Twitter that, compared to previous images from the space observatory, Webb’s NIRCam image “makes the whole place shimmer,” which CNN reports is a reference to the song “Bejeweled” on Taylor Swift’s new album, “Midnights.”
The James Web Telescope image captured never-before-seen detail of the Wolf–Lundmark–Melotte galaxy just outside the Milky Way. It is considered solitary because it does not interact with any other systems
NIRCM (Near-Infrared Camera) can detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies.
This observation was taken as part of Webb’s Early Release Science (ERS) 1334 program, focused on dissolved stellar populations.
The WLM dwarf galaxy was chosen for this program because its gas is similar to that which made up galaxies in the early universe and it is relatively close, meaning Webb can distinguish between its individual stars.
The WLM is in our galactic neighborhood but is 10 times smaller than our galaxy.
It was discovered by Max Wolf in 1909, but its species was later accredited to Knut Lundmark and Philibert Jacques Melotte in 1926.
Although the WLM is relatively close to our Milky Way, it is somewhat isolated and does not interact with other systems, according to Kristen McQuinn of Rutgers University, one of the lead scientists at ERS.
The Wolf–Lundmark–Melotte (WLM) dwarf galaxy was only seen by the Spitzer Space Telescope in 2016, but its instruments do not match JWST’s and the image shows the stars as blurry
However, since the WLM is not intertwined and entangled with the Milky Way, it is an excellent subject to study.
“Another interesting and important thing about the WLM is that its gas is similar to the gas that made up galaxies in the early universe. It’s quite unenriched, chemically speaking,” McQuinn shared in a statement to NASA.
“This is because the galaxy has lost many of these elements through something we call galactic winds.
“Although the WLM has been forming stars recently – throughout cosmic time, really – and these stars have been synthesizing new elements, some of the material is lost from the galaxy when the massive stars explode.
“Supernovae can be powerful and energetic enough to eject material from small, low-mass galaxies like the WLM.”
This is why the WLM is a sought-after subject of study, as astronomers can observe how stars form and evolve in small galaxies just as they did when the universe first formed.
‘We can see a myriad of individual stars of different colours, sizes, temperatures, ages and stages of development; interesting clouds of nebular gas in the galaxy; foreground stars with Webb diffraction spikes; and background galaxies with neat features like tidal tails. It really is a wonderful picture, McQuinn said.
“And, of course, the view is much deeper and better than our eyes could see.
“Even if you looked out from a planet in the center of this galaxy, and even if you could see infrared light, you would need bionic eyes to be able to see what Webb sees.”
The galaxy contains low-mass stars, which are believed to live for billions of years, meaning they formed shortly after the Big Bang.
The goal is to determine the properties of these low-mass stars, especially their ages, to gain insight into what happened in the very distant past.
“Now we’re looking at the near-infrared light with Webb, and we’re using the WLM as kind of a standard of comparison (as you would use in a lab) to help us make sure we understand the Webb observations,” McQuinn said.
“We want to make sure we’re measuring the luminosity of the stars really, really accurately and precisely. We also want to make sure we understand our stellar evolution models in the near-infrared.’
James Webb Telescope: NASA’s $10 billion telescope is designed to detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies
The James Webb Telescope has been described as a “time machine” that could help unravel the secrets of our universe.
The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, observing the sources of stars, exoplanets and even the moons and planets of our solar system.
The huge telescope, which has already cost more than $7bn (£5bn), is thought to be a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope
The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of about 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).
It is the world’s largest and most powerful orbital space telescope, which can look back 100-200 million years after the Big Bang.
The orbiting infrared observatory is designed to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, as the two will work together for a while.
The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 via the space shuttle Discovery from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
It circles the Earth at a speed of about 17,000 mph (27,300 km/h) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude.
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