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Stunning images herald new era for astronomy

  • August 8, 2022
  • 4 min read
Stunning images herald new era for astronomy

“The dawn of a new era in astronomy is here, as the world gets its first look at the full capabilities of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope,” says NASA. The telescope, part of a partnership with both the European Space (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), has uncovered an amazing collection of images from the Cosmos.

“Today, we present humanity with a groundbreaking new view of the cosmos from the James Webb Space Telescope, a view the world has never seen before,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson saids. “These images, including the deepest infrared view of our universe that has ever been taken, show us how Webb will help to uncover the answers to questions we don’t even yet know to ask; questions that will help us better understand our universe and humanity’s place within it.

The images published were selected by a group of representatives from NASA, ESA, CSA, and the Space Telescope Science Institute. They reveal the capabilities of Webb’s ‘state-of-the-art’ technology. More than that, they reveal more about the universe around us.  

These include “the deepest and sharpest” infrared image of the universe so far. SMACS 0723 is a collection of galaxies, “including some seen when the universe was less than a billion years old,” according to NASA’s website. Light from these galaxies has travelled for billions of years to reach us, and even the youngest galaxies in the image, were around within a billion years of the Big Bang.

“Light from these galaxies took billions of years to reach us,” NASA’s website writes. “We are looking back in time to within a billion years after the big bang when viewing the youngest galaxies in this field. The light was stretched by the expansion of the universe to infrared wavelengths that Webb was designed to observe. Researchers will soon begin to learn more about the galaxies’ masses, ages, histories, and compositions.”

This is reminiscent of the Hubble Deep Field, which also features a collection of galaxies, some that stretch back over 13 billion years!

WASP-96b is a gas giant captured by Webb. It is just under half the size of Jupiter but with a diameter 1.2 times greater. While the planet has been known to science for almost a decade, Webb has revealed more about its unique makeup, including its “distinct signature of water, along with evidence for clouds and haze, in the atmosphere of this hot, puffy gas giant planet, which orbits a distant Sun-like star.” As Professor Brian Cox has said in the past, anywhere on earth where we find water, we find life.

The ‘Southern Ring Nebula’ is an expanding cloud of gas surrounding a dying star some 2,500 light years away. Webb’s powerful infrared cameras brought it into full view for the first time ever. Webb reveals the “expelling shells of dust and gas” that could form into a new star or planet.

Similarly, Stephan’s Quintet is a compact group of galaxies in the Pegasus constellation. The telescope was able to ‘pierce’ through the shroud of dust surrounding the centre of one galaxy, and reveal more about the supermassive black hole, in its centre.

“Now,” writes Science Daily, “scientists can get a rare look, in unprecedented detail, at how interacting galaxies are triggering star formation in each other and how the gas in these galaxies is being disturbed.”

The Cosmic Cliffs in the Carina Nebula reveal the early and rapid phases of star formation for the first time. “Looking at this star-forming region in the southern constellation Carina,” according to Science Daily, “as well as others like it, Webb can see newly forming stars and study the gas and dust that made them.”

“The Webb team’s incredible success is a reflection of what NASA does best,” Nelson said. “We take dreams and turn them into reality for the benefit of humanity. I can’t wait to see the discoveries that we uncover — the team is just getting started!”

To see the images, visit nasa.gov/webbfirstimages

Images: NASA ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team

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