Images from the James Webb Space Telescope: five stunning observations stun scientists

The long-awaited first full-color images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope have been released, stunning scientists.

Star nursery space rocks and a quintet of galaxies linked in a celestial dance: NASA released another wave of images from the James Webb Space Telescope on Tuesday, ushering in a new era of astronomy.

“Every image is a new discovery,” said NASA administrator Bill Nelson. “Each of them will give humanity a view of the universe that we have never seen before.”

New images released one after the other at the Goddard Space Flight Center showcase the power of a $10 billion observatory that uses infrared cameras to peer into the distant universe with unprecedented clarity.

“They’re beautiful, full of great discoveries and science, and there’s a lot of stuff in there that we haven’t identified,” Nobel Prize-winning cosmologist and Webb Project Senior Scientist John Mather told AFP.

On Monday, Webb showed the clearest image to date of the early universe, teeming with thousands of galaxies over 13 billion years old.

The latest tranche included the “mountains” and “valleys” of a star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula, dubbed “Space Rocks”, 7,600 light-years away.

“For the first time, we are seeing completely new stars that were previously completely hidden from our view,” said NASA astrophysicist Amber Strawn.

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South Rim Nebula

Some stars save the best for last.

The dimmer star at the center of this scene has emitted rings of gas and dust in all directions for millennia, and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope showed for the first time that this star is shrouded in dust.

Two cameras aboard Webb took the final image of this planetary nebula, cataloged as NGC 3132 and informally known as the South Rim Nebula. It is located about 2500 light years from us.

Webb will allow astronomers to delve into many details about planetary nebulae like this one — clouds of gas and dust ejected by dying stars. Understanding what molecules are present and where they lie in the shells of gas and dust will help researchers refine their knowledge of these objects.

Carina Nebula

This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” strewn with glittering stars is actually the boundary of a nearby young star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. This infrared image from NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope shows for the first time previously unseen star-forming regions. Dubbed “Space Rocks”, Webb’s 3D painting looks like rocky mountains on a moonlit evening. This is actually the edge of a giant gas cavity inside NGC 3324, and the highest “peaks” in this image are about 7 light-years high. The cavernous region has been carved out of the nebula by intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive, hot, young stars located at the center of the bubble above the region shown in this image.

OSA-96 b

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured the signatures of water, as well as evidence of clouds and haze in the atmosphere surrounding a hot gas giant planet orbiting a distant sun-like star.

The observation, which reveals the presence of certain gas molecules based on a tiny dimming of the exact colors of light, is the most detailed to date, demonstrating Webb’s unparalleled ability to analyze atmospheres hundreds of light-years away.

While the Hubble Space Telescope has analyzed numerous exoplanet atmospheres over the past two decades, recording the first clear detection of water in 2013, Webb’s immediate and more detailed observations mark a giant step forward in the quest to characterize potentially habitable planets beyond Earth.

SMAX 0723

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has captured the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date. Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, this image of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is replete with detail.

Thousands of galaxies, including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared, came into Webb’s field of vision for the first time. This piece of the vast universe covers an area of ​​the sky about the size of a grain of sand that someone on earth holds at arm’s length.

President Joe Biden presented this image during an event at the White House.

Stephen’s Quintet

Stefan’s Quintet, a visual group of five galaxies, is best known for being featured in the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life. Today, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is revealing the Stefan Quintet in a new light. This huge mosaic is Webb’s largest image to date, covering about one-fifth of the moon’s diameter. It contains over 150 million pixels and consists of nearly 1,000 individual image files. The information from Webb provides new insight into how galactic interactions may have influenced the evolution of galaxies in the early universe. With powerful infrared vision and extremely high spatial resolution, Webb reveals never-before-seen details in this group of galaxies. Brilliant clusters of millions of young stars and star-forming regions of newly born stars adorn the image. Wide tails of gas, dust and stars are pulled out from several galaxies due to gravitational interactions. Most dramatically, Webb captured the huge shock waves as one of the galaxies, NGC 7318B, pierces the cluster.

Star nurseries and cemeteries

At the center of Stefan’s Quintet is a black hole called an active galactic nucleus, “meaning stuff flows in, heats up to high temperatures, and some of it spit out again,” Mather explained.

Studying the black hole will allow scientists to better understand the one at the center of our Milky Way called Sagittarius A*.

For the first time, the dim star at the center of the South Rim Nebula has been found to be shrouded in dust as it erupts rings of gas and dust in its death throes.

Understanding the molecules present in such stellar graveyards could help scientists learn more about the process of stellar death.

The telescope also described in detail the water vapor in the atmosphere of the distant giant gas planet.

Spectroscopy – an analysis of light that provides detailed information – was made for the planet WASP-96 b, discovered in 2014.

The scientists then hope to train spectrographic instruments on small, rocky worlds like ours to look for signs of habitability.

Fundamental discoveries are expected

The first images of Webb made a splash in the space community and will also be shown on giant screens in Times Square in New York and London.

Launched in December 2021 from French Guiana on an Ariane 5 rocket, Webb orbits the sun at a distance of 1.6 million kilometers from Earth in a region of space called the second Lagrange point.

It remains in a fixed position relative to the Earth and the Sun with minimal fuel consumption for course correction and maneuvering of its instruments.

A marvel of engineering, Webb is one of the most expensive science platforms to date, comparable to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, and one of the most complex machines ever built.

Webb’s primary mirror is over 6.5 meters wide and consists of 18 gold-coated mirror segments. Much like a camera being held in the hand, the design must remain very still for the best shots, and Webb engineers have minimized its wobble to 17 millionths of a millimeter.

Its pointing accuracy is equivalent to firing a bullet from Washington and hitting a coin on top of a tower in Los Angeles, Charlie Atkinson, chief engineer at its principal builder Northrop Grumman, told AFP.

After the first images, astronomers around the world will receive a share of the time spent in the telescope, with projects being selected competitively through a process where applicants and selectors do not know each other to minimize bias.

NASA estimates that Webb has enough fuel for a 20-year life thanks to an efficient launch, as he works with the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes to answer fundamental questions about the cosmos, including some that scientists don’t yet know.

“We don’t know what we don’t already know,” Strawn said.

Hubble played a key role in the discovery that dark energy causes the universe to expand at an ever-increasing rate, “so it’s hard to imagine what we could learn with this 100 times more powerful instrument.


Originally published as Five stunning images from the James Webb Space Telescope stunned scientists