A new image from the James Webb Space Telescope captured ancient galaxies and a distant spiral galaxy in stunning detail.
The crowded field shows bright stars and the large spiral galaxy LEDA 2046648, which is more than a billion light-years from Earth in the constellation Hercules.
The galaxy is accompanied by smaller, more distant galaxies, shown as spirals and bright smudges.
NASA said the image, taken by the Near-Infrared Camera during instrument calibration, helped to test the observatory’s ability to dig up galactic “fossils.”
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“Using images such as this one, scientists can compare galactic ‘dinosaurs’ with modern galaxies,” the agency tweeted. “In turn, this helps us learn more about how galaxies evolve – making Webb the ultimate space paleontologist.”
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Webb’s infrared vision helps the telescope peer back in time, with the light from these distant galaxies redshifted toward infrared wavelengths. The wavelength of the light is stretched, so the light is seen as “shifted” toward the red part of the spectrum.
Comparing these systems with galaxies in the local universe will help astronomers understand how galaxies grew to form the structure seen today.
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Webb will also probe the chemical composition of thousands of galaxies to shed light on how heavy elements were formed and built up as galaxies evolved, according to the European Space Agency,