The pixels of the James Webb Space Telescope's first image just released today, that are the least interesting to the public, will be the most instructive to astronomy and astrophysics. The tinest faintest dot you see is a distant billions of years old galaxy. If an ordinary picture is worth 1000 words when that picture is of a ordinary looking scene here on a single planet, then every pixel of this image from the James Webb Space Telescope will be worth 1000 x1000 words. Without careful analysis of each pixel there is not much that can be said scientifically right off the bat. Not more than the description NASA themselves give.

Click for full size image

“The image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago. The combined mass of this galaxy cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it.” That’s what NASA says. To my eye I see a few more details. There are very noticeable objects with diffraction peaks around them. Those are most likely to be foreground stars. Though without knowing distances to each of those I can’t rule out some distant quasars are among the smaller, fainter “star like” points of light one sees when zooming in.

The red streaks you see are images of distant galaxies created by the gravitational lensing due to the mass of the galaxy cluster.

The dimmest, smudges of light in the background are the most distant galaxies seen to date and seen at better angular resolution (In angular resolution smaller is better). It is from analysis of those pixels we will learn about the early, post Big Bang universe.  Every bit of this data will be subjected to deep numerical analyses. 

A question that interest me and probably has an answer in the literature somewhere is just what is going on with these galaxies?  Are they colliding?  

Is one just close to the other in our field of view BUT they are separated by a Billion light years?  I can't say at a glance.  Looks a lot like a collision but looks can be deceiving without knowing distances which we could determine by redshift. 

The Name Controversy

 Yes, I get that the name is controversial because James Webb was a homophobe who lead NASA at a time when they had various ex Nazis working for them such as Wernher Von Braun.

It was a homophobic time and by that standard the whole of NASA should be destroyed and recreated. Barring that any renaming would be a mere performative symbol and as such meaningless. Instead let us reclaim the meaning of that name by associating with it the science of the now and not the hateful climate of the past.

We now stand on the shoulders, and graves, of these dead men and their (im)morals. Someday those who come after us will stand on us and judge us too. Hopefully, society will have progressed to a level of personal freedom and empowerment that makes us look archaic, rather than regressed in to repressive and prescriptive moralism (which is so often coupled with hypocrisy).