Webb and Hubble team up to view massive galaxy cluster

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NASA said the detailed image was only possible thanks to the combined power of the two space telescopes, which also saw a vastly magnified galaxy in the image.

Two of the world’s most powerful space telescopes – James Webb and Hubble – have teamed up to provide a stunning view of a distant cluster of galaxies.

The two machines focused on MACS0416, a cluster of galaxies about 4.3 billion light-years from Earth. This means that the visible light left the cluster shortly after our own solar system formed, NASA said.

The cluster magnifies the light from more distant background galaxies due to gravitational lensing, meaning researchers have been able to identify magnified supernovae and even individual stars from the image.

A similar effect was visible in the first deep field image by James Webb, who was able to see distant galaxies thanks to the mass of a cluster of galaxies acting as a gravitational lens.

NASA said the latest image was only possible thanks to the power of both telescopes, as it combines infrared observations from the James Webb with visible-light data from the Hubble Space Telescope. Webb was able to enhance previous views of the Milky Way by looking further with his infrared equipment.

To create the image, the shortest wavelengths of light were color coded blue, while the intermediate wavelengths are green and the longest wavelengths are red. The bluest galaxies are best detected by Hubble, while the redder galaxies tend to be further away and better detected by Webb’s instruments.

A comparison image of the MACS0416 star cluster, with Hubble’s image on the left and James Webb’s image on the right. Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

The goal of this new image was to look for objects that vary in perceived brightness over time, known as transients, according to NASA. A research team identified fourteen transients in this image.

Professor Haojing Yan, lead author of one of the people describing the image’s results, said researchers refer to the cluster as the ‘Christmas Tree Galaxy Cluster’ because of the range of colors and flickering lights visible within it.

NASA said finding so many transients in a relatively short time frame suggests astronomers could find many more transients in this cluster and others like it.

A monstrous galaxy

One galaxy in particular has intrigued researchers because of its enormous size and is called Mothra – a monster from Japanese cinema. This star system is located in a galaxy that existed about 3 billion years after the Big Bang and is magnified in the image by a factor of at least 4,000.

NASA said the most likely explanation for the intense level of magnification is that there is an additional object in the cluster that adds more magnification but may be too faint for either telescope to see directly.

Hubble is one of the largest space telescopes ever created and is the predecessor to the James Webb Space Telescope, which continues the mission of gazing into the cosmos.

Last year, the two Titan space telescopes worked together to capture the outcome of NASA’s successful Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART). The space telescopes simultaneously took observations of the collision as the DART spacecraft crashed into its target asteroid Dimorphos.

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