Direct comparison on overlapping Hubble and JWST photos.

What a week! Finally, we got to see the first beautiful photos from JWST, and what a show that was. I was completely blown away by the detail in the images and my fascination for space got what felt like an infinite boost of fuel.

Astronomy can be a lonely journey for astronomers and stargazers in general. Researchers wait a long time for observational data or they struggle to build good models that can explain the phenomenon we see in deep space. Stargazers and astro-photographers spend endless hours in the cold darkness to catch a glimpse of the Milky Way or climb the mountain of editing skills to get a good photo.

An event like the one that was held by NASA etc. on Tuesday at the release of the first JWST photos is therefore important not only because of the groundbreaking science it will bring to us all, but because it shows us that the universe is indeed as spectacular as our fascination has convinced us it is. It also serves as a reminder of how small we are, how big space is and puts our entire existence into perspective.

Being obsessed with the new JWST photos, I want to show the first release to you while highlighting what my eyes dwell on and what I, being an astrophysicist, wonder when I see it. If you are looking for the technical details of each observation, please visit the official site.

JWST’s First Deep Field: Galaxy Cluster SMACS 0723

This deep field observation is of a collection of galaxies, a so-called galaxy cluster, and it has the name SMACS 0723. After some delay that forever imprinted a loop of hold-music in the brain of all the world’s impatient astronomers, it was released Tuesday in the night a bit after midnight (in my timezone).

Same observation, two different cameras. A comparison of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. To the left is shown an observation made by Hubble under the RELICS program. To the right is shown the recently released JWST observation of the same cluster. Use the slider to compare the two observations. Credit: NASA/ESA HST/JWST.

My First Impression – Disk, Lens and Detail

The first thing that caught my eye on the JWST photo is the big bulky disk in the very center of the target. It has the shape of a galaxy, but it is far too big (I think) to be one, when comparing to the surroundings. I still have no idea what it is, but I want to find out!

Another thing that I immediately paid attention to was the smeared out galaxy a bit to the top right of the center. It looks like one of those melting clocks in the famous Salvador Dali painting. It’s shaped the way it is because it is shown through a gravitational lens. Something very heavy (such as a cluster of galaxies) can have a mass that makes gravity bend the light around the object. It works just like a lens and astronomers use it to study galaxies that would otherwise be too distant for us to study.

Finally, I was baffled by the clarity and DETAIL in the photo. You can download the full resolution version and zoom in to study all the small galaxies that are almost invisible in the photo above.

Good luck!