NASA releases James Webb Space Telescope’s first deep field image
On Monday 11 July 2022, NASA released the first of the James Webb Space Telescope’s full colour images (see figure 1). Known as Webb’s first deep field, it images galaxy cluster SMACS 0723.
This incredible vista reveals the distant universe in unprecedented clarity. More glory be to God!
Psalm 19:1 ‘The heavens declare the glory of God …’
A Biblical basis for understanding this image and all future JWST images, as well as predictions of its future findings can be found in our article: What you need to know about the James Webb Space Telescope.
NASA and associated press have proclaimed that the Webb’s first deep field shows galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago.1 The calculation to achieve this figure2 assumes the universe has expanded3 in a uniform way since the imaged photons left SMACS 0723, and that (at least) for the duration of the photons journey, the space between the JWST telescope and SMACS 0723 has been homogeneous in mass distribution and isotropic (no preferred direction) to the speed of light.
What can be said without ambiguity is that the SMACS 0723 galaxy has a redshift value (see box titled “redshift” below) of 0.39. And according to the Hubble redshift-distance relation, this galaxy is very far away!
Of greater interest than SMACS 0723 is the background galaxies because they are some of the furthest galaxies we have ever seen. Many of these background galaxies have been gravitationally lensed by SMACS 0723, they appear distorted, as red arc shapes along circular paths centered on the center of mass of the galaxy cluster. The mass of SMACS 0723 distorts space time, so that light from behind the galaxy cluster appears to travel on a curved path (figure 2).
This is an especially efficient method for looking at the distant universe, as large galaxy clusters can act as magnifying lenses. It often results in the duplication of images at different times, as the emitted light travels different paths. It looks as if some of the galaxy images have been duplicated in Webb’s deep field image. I have circled in green on Figure 3 what looks to be 4 copies of the same galaxy. A simple closer look at these individual galaxies could disprove this idea, but if NASA release their individual spectra, it could be shown that they are the same object repeated.
Redshift describes the phenomena of spectral signatures from stars and galaxies being shifted to longer and therefore redder wavelengths. The redshift parameter Z is used to describe the change in wavelength:
λobs = Observed wavelength of spectral feature
λrest = Wavelength of spectral feature if star was at rest to observer (or, as measured in the lab)
All stars and galaxies sufficiently far away from Earth show redshift, and their respective redshifts increase with their distance from Earth (Hubble’s law).. Therefore, redshift, Z, is used as a proxy for distance from the earth.
The red colour of these lensed galaxies indicates that the light has experienced more redshift than the bluer foreground galaxies and stars.
Some spectra of the distant background galaxies produced by JWST’s NIRCam instrument have already been released (see figure 4) and the redshift shows their relative distances.
The galaxies highlighted on figure 4 have redshifts slightly less than the Hubble imaged HD1 galaxy, which (under standard cosmology) is the most distant object ever imaged at a redshift of 13.27 (first imaged April 2022). But with more time to analyse more galaxy spectra in the Webb deep field it is likely that a galaxy with higher redshift will be found in this image. And it is of little doubt that the James Webb telescope will see more distant galaxies with future exposures.
This first deep field image was produced by combining images taken at different wavelengths over a period of 12.5 hours. It produced a clearer image than the Hubble Space Telescopes deepest fields (see figures 5 and 6), which took weeks. The future for JWST images looks bright!
Hubble is primarily a visible wavelength telescope and has a mirror diameter of 2.4 metres. Because resolution is directly dependent on mirror size, Webb’s 6.5 metre mirror greatly enhances its ability to resolve distant objects. Prior to Webb, the Herschel telescope (2009–2013) was the largest infrared telescope with a 3.5 metre diameter; it was four times bigger than any earlier infrared space telescope. See figure 7 for an idea on how mirror size impacts infrared images.
Distant galaxies – will they match evolutionary predictions?
As discussed in more detail in section 2, of this JWST article, the big bang model says that the first galaxies created are the most distant ones. They are predicted to be blue in colour, as they are said to contain a high proportion of young, hot, short-lived, high-mass stars. Distant galaxies are also predicted to have a lower metallicity and less well-formed structure.
A number of current observations do not follow these predictions, and JWST will likely reveal many more. One leading expert on distant galaxies may already be suggesting this—Prof. Karl Glazebrook of Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, commented on the Webb deep field:
“We are seeing a wide range of colours we haven’t seen before in the early universe.”3
Dr Glazebrook also commented on the wide variety of galaxy shapes:
“It’s not just a case of the early universe being young, blue, and lumpy—it’s more complicated than that.”3
In conclusion, the images released on 11 and 12 July 2022 give unprecedented views into the universe, revealing never-before-seen galaxies. And yet, the 13-billion–dollar JWST promises to reveal much more.
It looks like the images will give the current Big Bang model more problems than it already has. We predict the model will experience significant change over the JWST’s lifetime (the next 20 years), as the distant universe is further unveiled.
Christians need not be concerned about the proclaimed ages of the images, as these ages are calculated using untestable materialistic assumptions. One such assumption strictly denies the earth any special location, and yet it is very difficult to test this with any degree of certainty. Cosmology is an under-constrained science; we only have one vantage point, the earth, or very close to it (Webb’s 1.5 million km distance is relatively small!). The Bible tells us that God created the universe de novo by divine fiat, and that the earth is the centre of His attention. This supernatural beginning precludes strict uniformitarianism, and God’s focus on the earth does not prevent a special location within His creation.
References and notes
- Garner, R., NASA’s Webb delivers deepest infrared image of universe yet, nasa.gov, 12 Jul 2022. Return to text.
- The look back time is defined as the age of the universe now minus the age of the universe at the time the light was emitted and is equal to the integral of 1/Ha with respect to a, over a (at time of emission) to 1 (the current normalised scale factor). Where H = The Hubble parameter and a = the normalised scale factor. Return to text.
- Universe expansion is an interpretation, not an observable facts. Return to text.