Q. When you saw the first image from JWST, what was your gut reaction?
A. “Please let this unite humanity and remind us that we are all part of something unfathomably vast.”
I think one of the most essential aspects of astronomy is its ability to both inspire and humble us. I dearly hope that the new images coming from Webb will have the power to crack through to even the most cynical among us.
We are seeing photons from these distant objects that no one in all human history has seen before. This light has been traveling across the universe for billions of years before hitting the JWST detector; how fortunate we are to be here to bear witness.
I love looking at some random tiny little speck of a galaxy in the deep field image, from which we’re receiving light that left like 10 billion years ago, and wondering what that galaxy looks like today. And wondering whether there is intelligent life on some hospitable planet orbiting some arbitrary star in that random galaxy and whether they might be looking at us wondering the same thing.
Q. Which of the JWST images moves you the most, and why?
A. Goodness, that is like having to pick your favorite child! Each of the release images is spectacular in its own way.
That being said, I did start to tear up when the image of Stephan’s Quintet was revealed. I have studied compact groups of interacting galaxies – like Stephan’s Quintet – for years using many wavelengths of light. Seeing the JWST image of the Quintet was like someone you’ve known and loved for decades suddenly coming into focus. Absolutely breathtaking.