JWST PEARLS. Prime Extragalactic Areas for Reionization and Lensing Science: Project Overview and First Results
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We give an overview and describe the rationale, methods, and first results from NIRCam images of the JWST Prime Extragalactic Areas for Reionization and Lensing Science (PEARLS) project. PEARLS uses up to eight NIRCam filters to survey several prime extragalactic survey areas: two fields at the North Ecliptic Pole (NEP); seven gravitationally lensing clusters; two high redshift protoclusters; and the iconic backlit VV 191 galaxy system to map its dust attenuation. PEARLS also includes NIRISS spectra for one of the NEP fields and NIRSpec spectra of two high-redshift quasars. The main goal of PEARLS is to study the epoch of galaxy assembly, active galactic nucleus (AGN) growth, and First Light. Five fieldsthe JWST NEP Time-Domain Field (TDF), IRAC Dark Field, and three lensing clusterswill be observed in up to four epochs over a year. The cadence and sensitivity of the imaging data are ideally suited to find faint variable objects such as weak AGN, high-redshift supernovae, and cluster caustic transits. Both NEP fields have sightlines through our Galaxy, providing significant numbers of very faint brown dwarfs whose proper motions can be studied. Observations from the first spoke in the NEP TDF are public. This paper presents our first PEARLS observations, their NIRCam data reduction and analysis, our first object catalogs, the 0.94.5 m galaxy counts and Integrated Galaxy Light. We assess the JWST sky brightness in 13 NIRCam filters, yielding our first constraints to diffuse light at 0.94.5 m. PEARLS is designed to be of lasting benefit to the community.