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New images from the James Webb Space Telescope continue to amaze astronomers.
The commissioning of the instrument from NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency has revealed the best snapshots of the universe ever seen.
“It’s a completely new way to explore the universe and marks the beginning of a new era,” said astronomer Michelle Thaller.
But it’s also a glimpse into the past, as some of the new photos are actually a picture of what happened millions of years ago, explains NASA administrator Bill Nelson.
“The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second (almost 300,000 km per second) and that light has been traveling for 13.5 billion years, just a few hundred million years after the early universe. That’s the threshold.” he explains.
These are some of the new pictures of the Universe.
The Carina Nebula
The Carina Nebula, also known as the Kiel Nebula, was a classic target of the Hubble Telescope, Webb’s predecessor.
Carina is one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky, located about 7,600 light-years from Earth.
Nebulae are stellar seedlings. They are huge clouds of gas and dust in which new stars are formed. In this Webb image, we don’t see many stars, just gas and dust.
Astronomers refer to this as a ‘cosmic reef’, a sort of separation between dust in the lower half and gas in the upper half. One of Webb’s main scientific goals is to study how stars are formed, and Carina is a great place to do that.
The “Eight Bursts” Nebula
The Southern Ring, or “Eight Bursts” Nebula, is a giant sphere of expanding gas and dust lit by a dying star in the center.
As stars age, they change the way they generate energy and lose their outer layers. And then when the star gets really hot again, they give energy to all that material it had previously neglected.
The southern ring is nearly half a light-year across and about 2,000 light-years from Earth. This type of structure is called a “planetary nebula,” but it actually has nothing to do with planets.
It’s a misnomer from the early days of telescopes when they didn’t have the resolution they have today. Just as the Webb wants to see how stars are born, she also wants to see how they die.
About 290 million light-years away, Stephans Quintet lies in the constellation Pegasus.
It is notable for being the first compact group of galaxies ever discovered. Four of the five galaxies within the quintet are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters.
This image from the Webb telescope doesn’t look all that different from the Hubble telescope version at first glance, but the infrared sensitivity of the new telescope will show astronomers different characteristics.
And this was the big hope: to get Webb to work with Hubble. They have different strengths and being able to compare and contrast gives scientists a new dimension to their study.
On Monday, the Webb had already presented its first image of deep space.
What does the James Webb telescope do?
The image released Monday shows a cluster of galaxies in the Southern Hemisphere constellation Volans, known by the technical name SMACS 0723.
The cluster itself is not that far away, “only” about 4.6 billion light-years away.
But the sheer mass of this cluster has deflected and magnified light from objects much, much further away. That’s a gravitational effect, like the astronomical equivalent of a telescope lens.
The James Webb, with its 6.5 m wide gold mirror and super-sensitive infrared instruments, has been able to detect in the image the distorted shape (the red arcs) of galaxies that existed only 600 million years after the Big Bang (the universe is 13.8 billion years old). years old).
How does it compare to the Hubble telescope?
You may have heard of the Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990.
The instrument has had a huge impact on our understanding of the universe. But scientists are very excited about the potential of the new James Webb telescope and what we could learn as it peers into the depths of the Universe.
“The Webb revealed entire galaxies that Hubble couldn’t see, showed details and underlying structures not visible in the Hubble images, and gave us an incredible preview of what’s to come,” said Emma Curtis-Lake, STFC Webb Fellow. the University of Hertfordshire, UK.
Hubble used to stare at the sky for weeks to produce these kinds of results, but Webb is capable of producing rich images much faster.
“What Webb accomplished in 12 hours is really amazing compared to what Hubble accomplished in about 10 days,” said Curtis-Lake. “And there’s so much more to come!” she says enthusiastically.
“We Thought This Day Would Never Come”
Jonathan Amos, science correspondent for BBC News
Wait three decades. That’s how long it took to design, build, launch and configure the most powerful space telescope ever.
There were many times in those 30 years when we thought this day would never come; pivotal moments when the project was so far over budget and so far behind schedule that we expected Congress to scrap the James Webb.
Thank God they stayed. The first images from the new telescope, including test images collected by engineers during the last six months of installation, were impressive.
Part of that is the incredible detail you can see in the images, thanks to Webb’s 6.5m wide primary mirror and high-fidelity infrared instruments.
But the speed at which the Webb can work is also astonishing. It can produce data in hours, while Hubble would have taken weeks to do the same. I look forward to what the future will bring.
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