US President Biden unveiled an image on Monday evening that NASA and astronomers hailed as the deepest view yet into our universe’s past.
The image, taken by the James Webb Space Telescope — the largest space telescope ever built — showed a distant patch of sky in which fledgling galaxies were burning their way into visibility just 600 million years after the Big Bang.
“This is the oldest documented light in the history of the universe from 13 billion — let me say that again, 13 billion — years ago,” Biden said, while praising NASA for its work that enabled the telescope and the imagery it will produce.
“We can see possibilities no one has ever seen before. We can go places no one has ever gone before,” added Biden.
The image goes by the name of SMACS 0723. It is a patch of sky visible from the Southern Hemisphere on Earth and often visited by Hubble and other telescopes in search of the deep past. It includes a massive cluster of galaxies about four billion light-years away that astronomers use as a kind of cosmic telescope. The cluster’s enormous gravitation field acts as a lens, warping and magnifying the light from galaxies behind it that would otherwise be too faint and faraway to see.
Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for space science, described this image as the deepest view yet into the past of our cosmos.
NASA will show other pictures at 10:30 a.m. Eastern time on Tuesday in a live video stream you can watch on NASA TV or YouTube. They will be shown off at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
The pictures constitute a sightseeing tour of the universe painted in colors no human eye has seen — the invisible rays of infrared, or heat radiation. A small team of astronomers and science outreach experts selected the images to show off the capability of the new telescope and to knock the socks off the public.
One of the most ambitious of the Webb telescope’s missions is to study some of the first stars and galaxies that lit up the universe soon after the Big Bang 14 billion years ago