James Webb Telescope Captures ‘Never-Before-Seen’ Images of Pandora’s Cluster
Feature Image: Pandora's Cluster as captured by the James Webb Telescope | Credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, I. Labbe (Swinburne University of Technology) and R. Bezanson (University of Pittsburgh). Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)
NASA’s James Webb Telescope has captured new images of a region of space known as Pandora’s Cluster (Abell 2744), revealing “never-before-seen” details of the Milky Way-like galaxy. According to astronomers, the unique view displays three clusters of galaxies, coming together to form a ‘megacluster’. This phenomenon is part of the reason why the region is visible, as the combined mass of the galaxy clusters creates a ‘powerful gravitational lens, a natural magnification effect of gravity’, which allows more distant celestial bodies to be observed.
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For space fanatics, the latest James Webb Pandora images mark a cause for celebration. Previously, only the central core of the megacluster was able to be observed, with NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope providing details surrounding its inner workings. This time around, the James Webb Telescope has delivered a “broad mosaic view” of the region. In essence, the new image of Pandora’s Cluster stitches four Webb shots together to create one panoramic view, which NASA says displays roughly 50,000 sources of near-infrared light.
“The ancient myth of Pandora is about human curiosity and discoveries that delineate the past from the future, which I think is a fitting connection to the new realms of the universe Webb is opening up, including this deep-field image of Pandora’s Cluster,” said astronomer Rachel Bezanson of the University of Pittsburgh, co-principal investigator on the “Ultradeep NIRSpec and NIRCam ObserVations before the Epoch of Reionization” (UNCOVER) program.
“When the images of Pandora’s Cluster first came in from Webb, we were honestly a little star-struck. There was so much detail in the foreground cluster and so many distant lensed galaxies, I found myself getting lost in the image. Webb exceeded our expectations.”
The world-first images of Pandora’s Cluster (Abell 2744) were captured via Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), with astronomer Ivo Labbe of the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne confirming around ’30 hours of observing time’ was needed for the shot. This ‘lensing core’ process to the lower right in the Webb image, a feat never achieved by Hubble, revealed “hundreds of distant lensed galaxies that appear like faint arced lines in the image”.
“Pandora’s Cluster, as imaged by Webb, shows us a stronger, wider, deeper, better lens than we have ever seen before,” Labbe said. “My first reaction to the image was that it was so beautiful, it looked like a galaxy formation simulation. We had to remind ourselves that this was real data, and we are working in a new era of astronomy now.”
You can view the first clear images of Pandora’s Cluster (Abell 2744) captured by the James Webb Telescope above, with full imaging mosaics and a catalogue of sources on the megacluster available via the UNCOVER team.