History of Stars Captured in New James Webb Telescope Images

TThe world was stunned last month by the first set of images from James Webb Space Telescope. They showed nebulae and galactic clusters as well binary stars. The telescope team has begun to tackle the 25+ years of work Webb was responsible for. Things are starting to calm down. reported that the telescope was once again in news this week when it was discovered by astronomers. announcedThat it had found the furthest single star seen.

Named Earendel, after a character in Lord of the RingsWebb was able to see the star at 12.9 billion light-years from Earth. It is therefore as Webb saw it 12.9 billion years before it appears today. The star would not have been visible at all if it weren’t for the phenomenon of gravitational lensing—the ability of large foreground objects like galaxies to bend and magnify the light streaming in from behind them.

“Nobody’s ever seen a star this highly magnified, not to mention a galaxy,” Dan Coe of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, part of the team that made the new measurements, told New Scientist.

James Webb Space Telescope captures a group of galaxies that includes Earendel, which is the distant star in our universe.


Webb is not credited with discovering Earendel even though it was a remarkable sighting. This distinction belongs to the Hubble Space Telescope which first saw Earendel in March. For Webb then, the sighting was less important for its historic value than for its engineering value—one more sign that the brand new, $10 billion observatory is living up to its sharp-eyed billing. Next, the Webb Telescope will be used to determine what elements are in Earendel as well as the galaxy where it is located.

In the meantime, much closer to home—a scant 500 million light years away—Webb also captured the best image yet of the dramatic Cartwheel Galaxy. The galaxy’s signature shape is the result of a high speed collision that occurred long ago between a large galaxy and a smaller galaxy, which combined into the formation we see today. You can see the signs of an old cosmic crack-up in the outer ring and bright inner rings. The left side shows two small, unrelated galaxies.

This image has more value than just its WOW factor. NASA expects that additional Webb images of Cartwheel from NASA will give details about both star formation as well as the black hole in the middle of the galaxy.

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