A message from the past: UK astronomers comment on the first JWST image

A large number of galaxies of different colours, shapes and sizes against the black backdrop of space. Galaxies in the middle of the image appear distorted due to gravitational lensing.
JWST's First Deep Field, featuring galaxy cluster SMACS 0723

The first image from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was revealed last night (11 July) by US president, Joe Biden. The image, of a galaxy cluster called SMACS 0723, showcases the faint, intricate structures of extremely distant galaxies in the most detailed view of the early universe to date. Today, UK astronomers share their initial reaction to the image, now called Webb’s First Deep Field.

Dr Hannah Wakeford, an exoplanet specialist from the University of Bristol, says: “This is just the start of a marathon of amazing images that will reveal the deepest wonders of the universe. The first image is a minor glimpse of what is to come. Twelve and a half hours to look back over 13 billion years of time. In that image is thousands of galaxies, billions of stars and trillions of planets. How can you not be in awe?”

Dr Stephen Wilkins, the Head of Astronomy at the University of Sussex and an expert when it comes to distant galaxies, says: “Last night's reveal of the first scientific image from JWST provides its first glimpse into the distant Universe. Clusters of galaxies like SMACS J0723.3-7327 act as enormous natural lenses enabling us to see fainter objects - sometimes even individual stars - in the early Universe. This image demonstrates just how powerful JWST will be for studying the distant Universe.”

“First of all, big shoutout to all the people behind NASA, ESA and CSA for making this happen, it’s incredible,” says Eva-Maria Ahrer, a PhD student at the University of Warwick whose research focuses on exoplanet atmospheres. “It’s absolutely stunning that we can see so many objects from the early universe captured in one image covering a small piece of the sky, and the beautiful effects of gravitationally lensing taking place. I’m very excited to see the upcoming science from images like that from this once-in-a-generation telescope!”

Dr Nathan Adams, a research associate at the University of Manchester, says: “Within minutes I was awash with notifications from my colleagues about the noticeable improvement in depth compared to Hubble. With just a simple picture, people are already finding galaxies which previously didn’t show up in the imaging we had of this patch of sky. I can’t wait to see what we can do when we get hold of these images properly!”

Dr Aayush Saxena, a research fellow in Extragalactic Astronomy at University College London (UCL), says: “It was incredible to see this stunning multi-colour image of the galaxy cluster, complete with beautiful ‘arcs’ that arise due to the bending of light from objects that lie behind massive clusters of galaxies. To be able to achieve such sensitivity and resolution at infrared wavelengths is truly paradigm shifting, opening up a whole range of possibilities. These capabilities will be revolutionary to detect some of the first galaxies to have formed in the Universe. Overall, this was an amazing teaser of JWST’s revolutionary capabilities, and I cannot wait to see more data.”

This afternoon (Tuesday 12 July), three more images and the first of the spectra will be released. The Royal Astronomical Society will be hosting five experts for a press briefing taking place at the National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2022) at 16:00 BST. Join online here.

Media contacts

Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Tel: +44 (0)20 7292 3979
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877 699

Ms Gurjeet Kahlon
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877700

Ms Cait Cullen
Royal Astronomical Society

Science contacts

Dr Hannah Wakeford
University of Bristol

Dr Stephen Wilkins
University of Sussex

Eva-Maria Ahrer
University of Warwick

Nathan Adams
University of Manchester

Dr Aayush Saxena
University College London

Images and Captions

Image link: https://nam2022.org/images/main_image_deep_field_smacs0723-1280.jpg

Caption: JWST's First Deep Field, featuring galaxy cluster SMACS 0723
Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Notes for editors

About NAM 2022

The NAM 2022 conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and the University of Warwick.

About the Royal Astronomical Society

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organises scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognises outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4,000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

Follow the RAS on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.

About the Science and Technology Facilities Council

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is part of UK Research and Innovation – the UK body which works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. STFC funds and supports research in particle and nuclear physics, astronomy, gravitational research and astrophysics, and space science and also operates a network of five national laboratories, including the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and the Daresbury Laboratory, as well as supporting UK research at a number of international research facilities including CERN, FERMILAB, the ESO telescopes in Chile and many more.

STFC's Astronomy and Space Science programme provides support for a wide range of facilities, research groups and individuals in order to investigate some of the highest priority questions in astrophysics, cosmology and solar system science. STFC's astronomy and space science programme is delivered through grant funding for research activities, and also through support of technical activities at STFC's UK Astronomy Technology Centre and RAL Space at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. STFC also supports UK astronomy through the international European Southern Observatory and the Square Kilometre Array Organisation.

Visit https://stfc.ukri.org/ for more information.

Follow STFC on Twitter: @STFC_Matters

About the University of Warwick

The University of Warwick is one of the world’s leading research institutions, ranked in the UK’s top 10 and world top 80 universities. Since its foundation in 1965 Warwick has established a reputation of scientific excellence, through the Faculty of Science, Engineering and Medicine (which includes WMG and the Warwick Medical School).

Submitted by Gurjeet Kahlon on Tue, 12/07/2022 - 12:42