The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has already extended humanity’s vision farther into time and space than ever before, providing breathtaking insight into the deepest, sharpest infrared image in the universe. primitive so far.
Now NASA has just unveiled five more stunning color images captured by the most ambitious telescopes mankind has ever built.
“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” teased James Webb Space Telescope program director Gregory L. Robinson before the reveal.
And was my boy right!
The images have of course been colorized during processing, so although they are not accurate to the naked eye, they still represent real data and make it easier for scientists to distinguish and understand the complex structures imaged. These improvements are purely scientific.
Surprisingly, what we see here is only five days worth of telescope images!! They are the culmination of decades of hard work by many people around the world and this is just the beginning. So feast your eyes on these incredible visions that are clearer and more detailed than ever.
The Southern Ring Nebula
What you can see below are dramatic waves of death from the Southern Ring Nebula – shells of gas peeling off dying stars.
The Southern Ring Nebula, AKA NGC 3132, is located about 2,000 light-years away and is a gorgeous glowing blob in the southern constellation of Vela.
There are two stars in its center, clearly visible in the image below on the right. The weakest is a white dwarf; the collapsed core of a dead star which, during its lifetime, had up to eight times the mass of the Sun. It reached the end of its life, blew out its outer layers, and the core collapsed into an ultradense object: up to 1.4 times the mass of the Sun, packed into an Earth-sized object. Although it still glows, it’s just due to residual heat. For billions of years it will cool into a dark, dead object.
For the first time, JWST was able to reveal this star, covered in dust. The brightest star is at an early stage in its evolution and will one day explode into its own nebula.
On the left, Webb’s near-infrared camera (NIRCam) reveals bubbly orange hydrogen from newly formed expansions as well as a blue haze of hot ionized gas from the dead star’s remaining heated core.
On the right, in the image captured by Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), blue hydrocarbons form patterns similar to the orange in the previous image, as they collect on the surface of dust rings in ‘hydrogen.
“Webb will allow astronomers to dig into much more detail about planetary nebulae like this,” NASA says. “Understanding what molecules are present and where they are in the shells of gas and dust will help researchers refine their knowledge of these objects.”
To provide context on the new level of detail, here’s Hubble’s view of the South Ring Nebula, taken in 1998.
Learn more about the South Ring Nebula image.
The deep field image
We’ve already seen the deep-field image of SMACS 0723, filled to the brim with galaxies frozen in time billions of years ago. Today, the Webb team provided more information about the image.
Why do some of the galaxies in this image appear bent? The combined mass of this cluster of galaxies acts as a “gravitational lens”, distorting the light rays from galaxies farther behind it, magnifying them. Light from the outermost galaxy here has traveled 13.1 billion years to us. pic.twitter.com/XaZkngQqvg
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) July 12, 2022
Learn more about Deep Field imaging.
One of JWST’s targets was exoplanet WASP-96b, a puffy, hot world that’s so close to its star that it only has a 3.5 Earth-day orbit. It orbits a Sun-like star 1,150 light-years away.
WASP-96b has less than half the mass of Jupiter and 1.2 times the diameter, so it’s much puffier than any gas giant we have in our solar system – and much hotter too. , with a temperature above 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (538 degrees Celsius).
What’s fascinating is that JWST was able to detect evidence of clouds and haze in the exoplanet’s atmosphere, capturing “the distinct signature of water.”
By observing tiny dips in the brightness of specific colors of light over a 6.4-hour period on June 21, JWST was able to reveal the presence of specific gas molecules around the planet. This is the most detailed observation of an exoplanet’s atmosphere that we have ever received.
How it works? When an exoplanet passes between us and its host star — called a transit — a small, very small amount of light from the star must pass through the star’s atmosphere, if it has one. Scientists can examine the spectrum of this light to look for brighter or fainter wavelengths from light that has been absorbed and re-emitted by elements in the atmosphere. This can tell us what those elements are.
Interestingly, previous observations suggested that WASP-96b had a clear, cloudless atmosphere. So we still have a lot to learn about this strange exoplanet.
It’s not the first time we’ve detected water in an exoplanet’s atmosphere – the Hubble Space Telescope did this in 2013 – but Webb’s detection is faster and much more detailed, and doesn’t only indicates the potential of what lies ahead for our understanding of extraterrestrial worlds.
Learn more about WASP-96b sightings.
Stephan’s Quintet is a group of galaxies locked in a cosmic dance with collisions and new stars exploding (the red areas in the image below).
The new JWST image of Stephan’s Quintet is monstrously massive, covering an area of sky one-fifth the diameter of the Moon (as seen from Earth) and containing more than 150 million pixels. It was built from around 1,000 image files – and it helps us understand how these spectacular galactic interactions shape the evolution of galaxies.
In the highest galaxy in this image, NGC 7319, scientists have identified signs of matter swirling around a massive black hole. The light energy it emits from all the matter it engulfs is 40 billion times that of our Sun.
While five galaxies are in view, only four of them are actually close to each other – the one on the left, NGC 7320, is much closer to us at 40 million light-years away, while the others are about 290 million light-years away.
You can compare the JWST image to the 2009 Hubble view.
Webb’s mosaic is his largest image to date, covering an area of sky 1/5 the diameter of the Moon (as seen from Earth). It contains over 150 million pixels and is built from approximately 1000 image files. Compare the new image to @NASAHubblefrom 2009, shown here! pic.twitter.com/SbulK1GIjN
— NASA Webb Telescope (@NASAWebb) July 12, 2022
Learn more about the image here.
The Carina Nebula
Last, but certainly not least, is the magnificent Carina Nebula like we’ve never seen it before – with hundreds of new stars. This incredible image shows the edge of a nearby young star-forming region, also known as NGC 3324.
The stunning detail of the JWST infrared image provides an incredible sense of depth and texture and there are many mysterious new structures to explore.
Known as the ‘cosmic cliffs’, the tallest peak in this image is 7 light-years high, with blue ionized gas being vented by intense radiation.
The apex is where newborn stars explode into life and the stellar wind they produce blows away orange-y gases, which in turn also ignites new stars or can extinguish them even before they are not manufactured.
What’s even more incredible is that we are all made up of the same stellar substance that we can see in this image.
Learn more about the Carina Nebula image.