Last week, NASA shared a photo captured by the James Webb Space Telescope’s guidance camera that, while imperfect, is the deepest image ever captured of the universe so far.
While it is one thing to state that a photo is the farthest ever captured of the universe, it can be difficult to understand just how monumental that achievement is without some context. Ethan Gone, a self-described amateur astrophotographer who goes by the name k2qogir on Youtube, puts the photo in a more easily digestible perspective that truly showcases the incredible distance that James Webb is able to image.
In order to see the area of the sky that James Webb captured, Gone took a six-hour exposure of the same area and compared the results.
“The recent James Webb Space Telescope(JWST) guide camera’s test image looks really similar to Hubble’s deep fields, which are my favorite. I decided to take a long exposure to the same target to see what my telescope can see and compare it to JWST’s image. I found one really faint galaxy 26 to 32 million light-years away, and a cute planetary nebula called Abell 39,” Gone explains.
From his perspective, the rest of the area around that region was just empty space.
“Match my image with the JWST’s color and zoom in to the same region, [and] my telescope can only offer a handful of faint stars,” he says.
By comparison, James Webb’s infrared telescope revealed what appears to be thousands of galaxies and stars in this small region of the night sky.
To better understand how impressive Webb’s view of this region of space is, Gone shows that the area it imaged is approximately the size of the Mare Crisium on the Moon, for those looking into the sky from a perspective on Earth.
In short, what Webb imaged with its guidance camera is just one astronomically tiny portion of the sky that looks nearly empty to those on Earth, yet through not even its main camera it was able to see a huge number of stars and galaxies. It showcases the sheer vastness of space and how much more humans can understand about the universe thanks to the exceptional power of the new observatory.
NASA is set to release the first full-color photos captured by the James Webb Space Telescope this week. The first will be released later today by President Joe Biden at 5:00 PM ET, with the other four to be released on July 12 starting at 10:40 AM EDT.