AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – Astronomers have revealed a new image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope of Pandora’s Cluster with help from UMass Amherst.

Pandora’s Cluster is an area deep in space where there are three large clusters of galaxies, and for the first time we now have one of the clearest images of the area in extreme detail. NASA shared a full resolution image on the James Webb Telescope website on Wednesday.

Astronomers estimate 50,000 sources of near-infrared light are represented in this image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.

The combined mass of the galaxy clusters allows for a natural magnification effect, allowing the telescope to see more distant galaxies in the early universe, like a magnifying glass. The last time astronomers studied Pandora’s Cluster was through the Hubble Space Telescope.

“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,” says astronomer Rachel Bezanson of the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania, co-principal investigator on the “Ultradeep NIRSpec and NIRCam ObserVations before the Epoch of Reionization” (UNCOVER) program to study the region. 

How did UMass Amherst help with this latest image?

To get an image like this, data had to be converted into this picture. The data was processed, analyzed and corrected by UMass Amherst astronomers.

“We detected some 50,000 objects, including many distant galaxies behind the cluster itself, still in their infancy,” says John Weaver, a postdoctoral researcher in astronomy at UMass who spearheaded the team’s photometric work. 

“With these pictures, we’re looking back in time, 97% of the way to the Big Bang,” says Kate Whitaker, professor of astronomy at UMass Amherst. “The James Webb Space Telescope is fundamentally changing our understanding of our cosmic origins.” 

The UNCOVER team used the Webb telescope’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) to capture clusters of light from galaxies with exposure lasting up to four to six hours. The team then goes through the imaging data and select galaxies for follow up observation with the near-infrared spectrograph (NIRSpec) to give a more precise measurement of the distance.

“UMass had the great privilege of leading the analysis of these images. We were the ones who got to take this data and actually find all the galaxy’s determine all their properties, arguably the deepest image ever of our universe and our goal was to find the very first galaxy, so understanding the universe in its infancy,” Whitaker told 22News.

“This is just the beginning of all the amazing Webb science to come,” said UNCOVER co-investigator Gabriel Brammer of the Niels Bohr Institute’s Cosmic Dawn Center at the University of Copenhagen.