James Webb Space Telescope’s first image of the most Distant known Star

James Webb Space Telescope's first image of the most Distant known Star

13 billion years ago, a giant blue star lit up the early universe.

Light has shone across countless light-years of expanding space, leaving shadows wherever it meets dust and rock.

What was left of these primordial photons had been squeezed out of shape by the expansion of space itself, engulfing and bending the gravitational wells of stars and galaxies.

Finally, earlier this year, some of that light hit the lens of a telescope orbiting a small, water-filled planet, giving us a look at a truly ancient star.

James Webb Space Telescope's first image of the most Distant known Star
James Webb Space Telescope’s first image of the most Distant known Star

The images provided by Hubble were exceptional. But scientists who saw it said the light was special enough to use a different telescope to see it up close.

Coded WHL0137-LS, although better known for its Tolkienesque name Earendel, the star now holds the record for the oldest, most distant star that we humans have had the opportunity to see.

So on July 30, 2022, the James Webb Space Telescope turned its attention to the corner of the sky dominated by the constellation of Saturn, where this dim, twisted arc of ancient sunlight was last seen.

Its dim rays are so bent out of shape, so thin and diffuse, it’s hard to tell much about what made them. So far we know that Arendal is probably hot and massive – somewhere between 50 and 100 solar masses. This makes it likely to burn out quickly, winking millions of years after life first gave birth in a supernova.

Flaring up about 900 million years after the Big Bang, it is unlikely to have been among the first stars in the Universe, although it still emerged at a time when heavier elements were scarce.

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Anything we can learn from its spectrum will have to wait a little longer. With JWST able to discern details that the Hubble Space Telescope cannot, astronomers may soon be able to get some more clues about this new record holder.

The tired light of Earendel has traveled so far to get here. Whatever it has to say, we’re sure it’s worth the wait to hear it.