Analysis of the very first image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows that the MIRI instrument developed in the Netherlands works even better than expected. Researchers from the University of Groningen have shown that the infrared telescope shows details of galaxies from a time when the universe was only about 1 billion years old. This period is important to astronomers because it was when the first galaxies formed. The analysis will be published shortly The Astrophysical Journal.
For the past 20 years, researchers have relied on infrared images from Spitzer. This telescope could only look back at long wavelengths to about 2 to 3 billion years after the Big Bang. “You would think that the 1 billion years that Webb takes off doesn’t matter that much,” says research leader Edoardo Iani (University of Groningen) “But you come right at the time when the first galaxies were formed. So we are very pleased with our findings.”
Infrared images from the James Webb Space Telescope allowed astronomers to discover undiscovered galaxies, among other things. They could also more accurately calculate how many stars were present in very young, distant galaxies. The reason previous Hubble Space Telescope estimates were inaccurate is that they didn’t capture much of the originally visible light because it was stretched by the expansion of the universe.
Co-author of the analysis Karina Caputi (University of Groningen) expects more and deeper images to become available soon. “Maybe that will allow us to penetrate a little bit into the Dark Ages. When we designed the MIRI instrument, we secretly hoped that we would achieve that, but now it looks like it’s really going to happen.”
MIRI was developed by NASA and ESA together with various European partners. The MIRI spectrometer was created thanks to the efforts of the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) and research institutes in the United Kingdom and Germany. Design and construction were carried out by the NOVA Optical-Infrared Group at ASTRON in Dwingeloo in collaboration with several other Dutch institutes and universities.
“A first look into the nature of JWST/MIRI 7.7 micron sources from SMACS 0723” has been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.
Edoardo Iani et al, A First Look into the Nature of JWST/MIRI 7.7 micron Sources from SMACS 0723, arXiv (2022). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2208.06364. Accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal.
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