Galaxy clusters like Abell 2744 can act as a natural cosmic lens, magnifying light from more distant, background objects through gravity. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope may be able to detect light from the first stars in the universe if they are gravitationally lensed by such clusters.Credits: NASA, ESA, and J. Lotz, M. Mountain, A. Koekemoer, and the HFF Team (STScI). Hi-res image
This diagram illustrates how rays of light from a distant galaxy or star can be bent by the gravity of an intervening galaxy cluster. As a result, an observer on Earth sees the distant object appear brighter than it would look if it weren’t gravitationally lensed.Credits: NASA, ESA, and A. Feild and F. Summers (STScI). Hi-res image
The first stars in the universe blazed to life about 200 to 400 million years after the big bang. Observing those very first individual stars across such vast distances of space normally would be a feat beyond any space science telescope. However, new theoretical work suggests that under the right circumstances, and with a little luck, NASA’s upcoming James Webb Space Telescope will be able to capture light from single stars within that first generation of stars.
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland
Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona