Visualizing Science

Maisie’s Galaxy

Supercomputers enable scientists to combine myriad images in memory resulting in fascinating single image

New images from NASA's James Webb Space Telescope show some of the earliest galaxies ever observed – objects from more than 13 billion years ago – and represent some of the first results from a collaboration of astronomers and researchers teaming with NASA and global partners to uncover new insights about the universe.

The team has identified one particularly exciting object in a patch of sky near the handle of the Big Dipper. Dubbed Maisie's galaxy in honor of project head Steven Finkelstein's daughter, they estimate it is being observed as it was just 370 million years after the Big Bang.

If confirmed, the finding would indicate that galaxies started forming much earlier than previously thought.

"It's amazing to see these new James Webb images. The level of detail we’re now able to see is truly astonishing," said Finkelstein, professor of astronomy at UT Austin and the principal investigator for the Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey (CEERS), from which these images were taken.

Before the actual telescope data came in, Micaela Bagley, a postdoctoral researcher at UT Austin and one of the CEERS imaging leads, created simulated images to help the team develop methods for processing and analyzing the new imagery. Bagley led a group processing the real images so the data could be analyzed by the whole team.

The large image above  is a mosaic of 690 individual frames that took about 24 hours to collect using the telescope's main imager, called the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam). This new image covers an area of the sky about eight times as large as Webb's First Deep Field image, although it is not as deep.

The researchers used supercomputers at TACC for the initial image processing: Stampede2 was used to remove background noise and artifacts, and Frontera was used to stitch together the images to form a single mosaic.

Finkelstein concluded: "High-performance computing power made it possible to combine myriad images and hold the frames in memory at once for processing, resulting in a single beautiful image.”

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope is a partnership with ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency). Additional co-investigators in CEERS are Henry Ferguson, Norman Grogin, Anton Koekemoer, Nor Pirzkal and Swara Ravindranath of the Space Telescope Science Institute; Mark Dickinson of NSF's NOIRLab; Andrea Grazian of INAF - Osservatorio Astronomico di Padova; Jeyhan Kartaltepe of the Rochester Institute of Technology; Lisa Kewley of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics; Dale Kocevski of Colby College; Jennifer Lotz of the Gemini Observatory; Casey Papovich of Texas A&M University; Laura Pentericci, INAF - Osservatorio Astronomico di Roma; Pablo G. Pérez-González of Centro de Astrobiología; Rachel Sommerville of the Flatiron Institute; Jonathan Trump of the University of Connecticut; and Stephen Wilkins of the University of Sussex.