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Webb Telescope Shows 3D Visualization of 5,000 Galaxies

Scientific visualization of galaxies captured as part of the CEERS (Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science) Survey highlights a large undertaking by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope. It flies through thousands of galaxies, beginning with those nearby and ending with less-developed galaxies in the far reaches of the universe, including one never seen before by Webb.

CEERS: Flight to Maisie's Galaxy

This 3D visualization portrays about 5,000 galaxies within a small portion of the CEERS (Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science) Survey, which gathered data from a region known as the Extended Groth Strip. As the camera flies away from the viewpoint, each second amounts to traveling 200 million light-years into the data set, and seeing 200 million years further into the past. The appearances of the galaxies change, reflecting the fact that more distant objects are seen at earlier times in the universe when galaxies were less developed. The video ends at Maisie’s Galaxy, which formed only 390 million years after the big bang, or about 13.4 billion years ago. Music: Spring Morning, Maarten Schellekens CC BY-NC 4.0. Video Credits: Visualization: Frank Summers (STScI), Greg Bacon (STScI), Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Leah Hustak (STScI), Joseph Olmsted (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

The visualization highlights a small portion of the Extended Groth Strip, a region between the Ursa Major and Boötes constellations first observed by Hubble in 2004 and 2005.

While this vast region has about 100,000 galaxies, the visualization concentrates on about 5,000, with the closest and most complex galaxies, shown at the start, situated within a few billion light-years of Earth. As the visualization progresses, different stages of the universe’s history and evolution were viewed alike to seeing galaxies farther away from Earth.

Astronomers are particularly interested in the visualization’s farthest galaxy, Maisie’s Galaxy. It formed approximately 390 million years after the big bang, or approximately 13.4 billion years ago.

It is not only one of Webb’s first bright, extremely distant galaxies, but it is also an early galaxy that only Webb could see. This is because Webb’s instruments could capture the light from these early galaxies, which have been switched to infrared wavelengths by the universe's expansion.

This observatory just opens up this entire period of time for us to study. We couldn’t study galaxies like Maisie’s before because we couldn’t see them. Now, not only are we able to find them in our images, we’re able to find out what they’re made of and if they differ from the galaxies that we see close by.

Rebecca Larson, Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester

This observation exceeded our expectations. The sheer number of galaxies that we’re finding in the early universe is at the upper end of all predictions,” notes Steven Finkelstein of the University of Texas at Austin and the Principal Investigator of the CEERS program.

The observatory’s capacity to execute surveys like these offers astronomers a demonstration of Webb’s instruments for future observations.

This visualization not only shows how far Webb can observe but also how much it builds on Hubble’s achievements. In many cases, Hubble’s observations, combined with Webb’s data from the CEERS Survey, allowed investigators to distinguish between galaxies that were truly distant—the early-universe galaxies of interest—and those that were nearby but so dusty that their visible light was obscured.

With these findings, investigators hope to learn more about the formation of stars in these early galaxies.

We’re used to thinking of galaxies as smoothly growing. But maybe these stars are forming like firecrackers. Are these galaxies forming more stars than expected? Are the stars they’re making more massive than we expect? These data have given us the information to ask these questions. Now, we need more data to get those answers.

Steven Finkelstein, University of Texas at Austin

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