Those responsible for the James Webb Space Telescope published on Tuesday all the first images taken by this astronomical observatory, the largest ever launched into space. New snapshots and scientific data portray giant exoplanets, compact groups of galaxies, and the brightest known nebula. These images follow the announcement made on Monday by US President Joe Biden, with the first full-color snapshot taken by this instrument.
The images mark the beginning of the scientific operations of this observatory, developed by the US in collaboration with Europe and Canada.
In this first batch of images the Webb has portrayed these four objects:
Southern Ring Nebula. This huge cloud of expanding gas surrounds a dying star 2,000 light-years from Earth. It is only visible from the southern hemisphere. The Webb has portrayed the bag of gas and dust produced by the dying star and also shows the other star present in this object. The points of light surrounding the nebula are not stars, but galaxies. These types of observations will help to better understand the evolution of stars. It is the upper image of this news, and the one that appears below, compared with the one that Hubble took at the time.
WASP-96b. A giant planet somewhat larger than Jupiter that is 1,150 light years away. If on Earth a year lasts 365 days, the time it takes for our planet to complete an orbit around the Sun, this world is so close to its star that each year lasts just three and a half days. The main characteristic of this huge gaseous world is that, unlike Jupiter or Saturn, it does not appear to have clouds. The Webb has revealed that in the atmosphere of this hot gaseous planet there is water and clouds, contrary to what was thought. This new ability to detect essential molecules for life on very distant planets will be key in the search for organic traces on dozens of exoplanets.
Stephan’s Quintet. The first compact group of galaxies, discovered in 1877 by the French astronomer Édouard Jean-Marie Stephan. It is about 300 million light years away. Four of its galaxies are united by their forces of gravity in a violent choreography that sometimes makes them collide at millions of kilometers per hour, which revives the birth of new stars. Webb has captured the quintet in an image that stitches together data from the mid- and near-infrared detectors. The snapshot of these five bodies and the rest that are distributed around them is a compendium of the different stages of the evolution of galaxies. This is the largest image taken by Webb to date. It has 150 million pixels and combines 1,000 images of the same object. Below you can compare the Webb image with the Hubble image.
The Carina Nebula. Located 7,600 light-years from Earth, it is the brightest known nebula and stars are being born and dying inside it. The new image taken by Webb reveals hundreds of new stars and unknown structures. In the foreground you can see the huge ocher-colored cloud made of dust and gas, the raw material of the new stars. Young stars emit powerful radiation that can influence the gas and slow down the appearance of new stars. “It’s a delicate balance,” said NASA astronomer Amber Straughn. The multiple points of light in this image are stars. Many of them probably have planets around them. Below you can compare the Webb image with the Hubble image.
The image announced Monday by Biden is the most distant and precise that has been obtained of the deep universe in the infrared spectrum, according to NASA. It shows SMACS 0723, a region of the sky visible from the southern hemisphere where a large cluster of galaxies stands out 4.6 billion light years from Earth. The gravitational pull of this cluster warps space and time and works like a lens that magnifies the light from much more distant and dim galaxies behind it. The Webb image shows that the instrument can capture this phenomenon and pursue one of its main goals: to see further into the universe than any other telescope, to capture the light of the first stars born after the Big Bang, the explosion with which The universe was born 13.7 billion years ago.
The selection of these first five objectives has taken more than five years of study between the three space agencies responsible for the project. This set of images “is intended to highlight the enormous capabilities of Webb’s instruments and give an idea of what is to come,” said Klaus Pontoppidan, one of the mission’s scientific leaders. “Surely these images start a wow!, to astronomers and the general public”, he added in a press release.
The James Webb Telescope launched last December and arrived at its destination in February. The process of deploying its mirror and its huge sunshield is the most complex ever carried out by NASA and its European and Canadian partners, who have participated in the development of several of the observatory’s four instruments.