Jhe world was stunned last month when the James Webb Space Telescope came out his first series of images, showing nebulae, galactic clusters, binary stars, and more. Things have since calmed down a bit, as the telescope team begins to undertake the roughly 25 years of work that Webb would have ahead of him. But like Space.com reportsthe telescope made news again this week, when astronomers announcement that he had spotted the most distant individual star ever seen.
Named Earendel, after a character from the Lord of the Rings, the star is located 12.9 billion light-years from Earth, which means that Webb saw it as it was 12.9 billion years ago, not as she is today. The star would not have been visible at all had it not been for the phenomenon of gravitational lensing – the ability of large foreground objects like galaxies to bend and magnify light coming from behind them.
“No one has ever seen a star this magnified, let alone a galaxy,” said Dan Coe of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Maryland, a member of the team that made the new measurements. Told new scientist.
A cluster of galaxies including Earendel, the most distant known star in the universe, captured by the James Webb Space Telescope
Although the Earendel sighting was an achievement, Webb does not take credit for discovering it. That distinction goes to its much older sibling, the Hubble Space Telescope, which first spotted Earendel last March. For Webb, the observation was then less important for its historical value than for its technical value – one more sign that the brand new $10 billion observatory lives up to its piercing bill. The next step is to try using the Webb Telescope to figure out what elements make up Earendel and the galaxy he lives in.
Meanwhile, much closer to home, just 500 million light-years away, Webb has also captured the best image yet of the spectacular Cartwheel Galaxy. The galaxy’s characteristic shape is the result of a high-speed collision that occurred long ago between a large galaxy and a smaller galaxy, which combined into the formation we see today. The bright inner ring and the larger outer ring are the telltale signs of this ancient cosmic rift. Two smaller, spectating galaxies are on the left side of the frame.
The new image is valuable for much more than its wow factor. NASA hopes that more Webb images of the cartwheel will reveal details about both star formation and the black hole that sits at the center of the galaxy.
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