How Webb’s CEERS Survey Revealed 5,000 Galaxies in Stunning 3D Video

This video shows a 3D journey through about 5,000 galaxies in a tiny part of the sky. The CEERS Survey studied this area, called the Extended Groth Strip, to learn about the early universe. As we zoom out, we go back in time and see how the galaxies looked when they were younger and less evolved. Each second of the video is like traveling 200 million light-years and seeing 200 million years into the past. The final galaxy we see is Maisie’s Galaxy, one of the oldest galaxies ever observed. It was born 390 million years after the big bang, or 13.4 billion years ago. Credits - Frank Summers (STScI), Greg Bacon (STScI), Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Leah Hustak (STScI), Joseph Olmsted (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI), Steve Finkelstein (UT Austin), Rebecca Larson (RIT), Micaela Bagley (UT Austin). Music - Maarten Schellekens

July 10, 2023 - NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured a stunning 3D visualization of thousands of galaxies in a region known as the Extended Groth Strip. The video, which was released by the Webb team on July 10, 2023, showcases the cosmic evolution of these galaxies from the nearby ones to the most distant ones, including a never-before-seen galaxy that formed only 390 million years after the big bang. 

The Extended Groth Strip is a vast area between the Ursa Major and Boötes constellations that contains about 100,000 galaxies. It was originally observed by the Hubble Space Telescope between 2004 and 2005, but Webb’s superior infrared capabilities allowed it to peer deeper into the history and structure of these galaxies.

The 3D visualization, which was created by scientists at the Space Telescope Science Institute, portrays about 5,000 galaxies within a small portion of the Extended Groth Strip. The video starts with the nearest and more complex galaxies, which are located within a few billion light-years of Earth. As the camera flies away from our viewpoint, each second amounts to traveling 200 million light-years into the data set, and seeing 200 million years further into the past. The appearances of the galaxies change, reflecting the fact that more distant objects are seen at earlier times in the universe, when galaxies were less developed.

The video ends at Maisie’s Galaxy, which is one of the first bright, extremely distant galaxies found by Webb. It formed about 390 million years after the big bang, or about 13.4 billion years ago. It’s also an example of an early galaxy that only Webb could see, because its light has been shifted to infrared wavelengths by the expansion of the universe.

“This observatory just opens up this entire period of time for us to study,” said Rebecca Larson of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York, one of the investigators of the CEERS (Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science) Survey, which gathered data from the Extended Groth Strip. “We couldn’t study galaxies like Maisie’s before because we couldn’t see them. Now, not only are we able to find them in our images, we’re able to find out what they’re made of and if they differ from the galaxies that we see close by.”

Steven Finkelstein of the University of Texas at Austin, principal investigator of the CEERS program, added, “This observation exceeded our expectations. The sheer number of galaxies that we’re finding in the early universe is at the upper end of all predictions.” The observatory’s ability to conduct surveys like these provides a demonstration of Webb’s instruments for astronomers to reference for future observations.

This visualization not only shows just how far Webb can observe, but also how much it builds off the accomplishments of Hubble. In many cases, Hubble’s observations, along with Webb’s data from the CEERS Survey, enabled researchers to determine which galaxies were truly far away – the early-universe galaxies of interest – and which were nearby, but so dusty that their visible light was obscured.

Source - NASA and ESA