Zoom in on Webb Telescope's Biggest Image Yet

Zoom in on Webb Telescope's Biggest Image Yet

This new view of the cosmos is even larger than Webb's previous deep field image.

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A region of sky near the Big Dipper, peppered with countless galaxies and stars.
One of four images recently taken by NIRCam of the EGS field.
Image: NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

The Webb Space Telescope has taken its biggest image yet, exceeding the scale of the deep field image revealed by President Biden on July 12. The new image covers a region of sky eight times larger than the first Webb deep field, and it includes some dazzling structures from the cosmos.

The image—made up of a mosaic of 690 individual frames—was taken as part of the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS). The images were taken in June, and Webb is scheduled to take another six (the last in a set of 10) in December, according to EarthSky.

The survey is a test of extragalactic surveying using Webb’s instruments, and it will focus on some of the earliest galaxies and their structures, as well as the physical conditions and growth of stars and black holes. It’s focused on a part of the sky called the Extended Groth Strip, near the handle of the Big Dipper. Because that region of the sky is dim (there aren’t particularly bright or nearby light sources), it’s easier for Webb to see more distant and fainter light sources.

The data captured in the composite image was collected by Webb’s NIRCam and MIRI, instruments that operate in the near- and mid-infrared wavelengths, respectively. The image is less than half of the data the team will ultimately collect for the survey.

In the full-scale .tif images (which can be found here), you can zoom in deeper and deeper until you completely lose sense—or perhaps better understand—the sheer scale of the cosmos. Here are some particularly intriguing objects.

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A Blue Spiral

A Blue Spiral

A pale blue galaxy.
A spiral galaxy, peppered with star-forming clumps.
Image: NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

This image depicts a spiral galaxy in blue. The galaxy is at a redshift of z=0.16, making the galaxy roughly 2 billion light-years away. The blue coloring indicates a region of star clusters and stars being formed.

The blue spiral galaxy at right, amongst countless others in one image.
The location of the spiral galaxy in one of the four images taken by NIRCam.
Image: : NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay
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A Serendipitous Spiral Trail


A Serendipitous Spiral Trail

A bright galaxy with a serpentine trail of galaxies to its right.
A bright galaxy with a serpentine trail of galaxies to its right.
Image: NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

A bright galaxy at redshift z=2 is at left, meaning its light has traveled over 10 billion years to reach us. To the right are several smaller pink and purple galaxies, lined up like galactic snake vertebrae.

The trail of galaxies and "Space Kraken" at the bottom of a much larger image.
The galactic trail and the Space Kraken, at bottom.
Image: : NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay.
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The “Space Kraken”

The “Space Kraken”

A distant smattering of intermingled reddish galaxies.
The so-called “Space Kraken.”
Image: NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

In this image, several galaxies are intermingling at z=1.4. The CEERS team dubbed this intergalactic combination the “Space Kraken,” for reasons that to this writer are uncertain but ominous.

The trail of galaxies and "Space Kraken" at the bottom of a much larger image.
The galactic trail and the Space Kraken, at bottom.
Image: : NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay.
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Luminous Discs

Luminous Discs

Interacting galaxies; a pale blue dot between them is a supernova.
Three pale blue galaxies, two of which are interacting.
Image: NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

In this image, we see two spiral galaxies interacting at z=0.7. A third galaxy, at left, is a similar opalescent white. The large white arrow points to a supernova discovered on the outskirts of the smaller galaxy.

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Look at That Detail!

Look at That Detail!

The rosy pink galaxy imaged here is at z=0.7, or nearly 10 billion light-years away. Yet the Webb Space Telescope’s resolution is able to distinguish bright spots within the galaxy and the form of its spiraled arms. It’s a testament to the telescope’s terrific optics.

A zoomed-out view of the interacting galaxies and the pinkish spiral galaxy.
The pale blue galaxies above, and the spiral galaxy below, in one of the NIRCam images.
Image: : NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay
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So Close, but So Far

So Close, but So Far

A pinkish galaxy with a tail at center, and a grouping of reddish galaxies at bottom-right.
A pinkish galaxy with a tail at center, and a grouping of reddish galaxies at bottom-right.
Image: NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

In this image, a nearby galaxy (pink, center) faces off with a set of galaxies (reddish-orange, bottom right). But the former galaxy is at z=0.63 whereas the latter group is at z=1.85. When imaging deep fields, objects can appear to be next-door neighbors in the sky, when they’re actually at drastically different distances from Earth.

The galaxies are just a few dots in the larger image by NIRCam.
The highlight group of galaxies, in their larger context.
Image: : NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay
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A Very, Very Old Galaxy

A Very, Very Old Galaxy

A light red dot may be one of the most ancient galaxies yet known.
The ancient galaxy—dubbed “Maisie’s Galaxy”—alongside the other NIRCam images.
Image: NASA/STScI/CEERS/TACC/S. Finkelstein/M. Bagley/Z. Levay

In this image, you can see the four NIRCam images in their entirety. And in one section, the CEERS Collaboration team thinks they’ve found an incredibly ancient galaxy, at a redshift greater than z=11.8. If future observations confirm their suspicions, we’re seeing the galaxy as it was less than 400 million years after the Big Bang. 

More: How Are Webb Telescope Images Colorized?

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