Stunning new James Webb image features 45,000 early galaxies in a single frame

Some of the earliest galaxies "looked like little smudges" until James Webb started science operations last year.
Chris Young
The new JADES program image.
The new JADES program image.


The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a region of the sky known as GOODS-South as part of the Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey, or JADES.

The stunning new image contains over 45,000 galaxies in a single frame. It's part of Webb's mission to uncover faint, distant galaxies dating back to the early universe.

New image features roughly 45,000 galaxies

The JADES program is expected to devote roughly 32 days of telescope time in total during Webb's first year of scientific operations to imaging some of the earliest galaxies ever observed.

According to a blog post from NASA, JADES has already discovered hundreds of galaxies from when the universe was less than 600 million years old.

“With JADES, we want to answer a lot of questions, like: How did the earliest galaxies assemble themselves? How fast did they form stars? Why do some galaxies stop forming stars?” Marcia Rieke of the University of Arizona in Tucson, co-lead of the JADES program, explained in the NASA post.

Less than a year into what could be a roughly 10-year science mission, the $10 billion Webb observatory has already altered our perception of the cosmos. Some of the earliest galaxies it has observed are more evolved than expected for such an early evolutionary stage of the universe.

In the new observation, we can see newly-formed stars thanks to Webb’s NIRSpec (Near-Infrared Spectrograph) instrument.

"Almost every single galaxy that we are finding shows these unusually strong emission line signatures indicating intense recent star formation. These early galaxies were very good at creating hot, massive stars," explained Ryan Endsley of the University of Texas at Austin, who led a study into galaxies that existed 500 to 850 million years after the big bang — an era known as the Epoch of Reionization.

Webb peers further into the past than ever before

A testament to Webb's impressive capabilities is the fact that, prior to the start of its scientific operations, only a few dozen galaxies had been observed with a redshift of 8 — meaning the universe was younger than 650 million years old. Now, thanks to the JADES program, Webb has uncovered almost a thousand galaxies with that specific redshift.

According to NASA, the massive number of early galaxies is far beyond what was predicted prior to the launch of James Webb.

"Previously, the earliest galaxies we could see just looked like little smudges. And yet those smudges represent millions or even billions of stars at the beginning of the universe," said Kevin Hainline of the University of Arizona in Tucson, who led a team investigating these early galaxies.

"Now, we can see that some of them are actually extended objects with visible structure," Hainline continued. "We can see groupings of stars being born only a few hundred million years after the beginning of time."

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