The 7 most spectacular images from the first year of the James Webb Space Telescope

The 7 most spectacular images from the first year of the James Webb Space Telescope

Little more than a week had passed since the Independence Day celebrations, but the crowd that had gathered NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland was like excited like any audience at a fireworks display. They were there because the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), a technological marvel that had launched the previous December, had finally sent back remarkably beautiful and detailed images of the universe. Now the crowd was about to see them for the first time and literally witness history.

Since that historic day in 2022, NASA has released more and more images of the JWST, and astronomers and laypeople alike have been repeatedly amazed. Considering it cost $10 billion in total when construction was completed in 2016, it’s a relief that the telescope has lived up to its hype.

To celebrate this milestone for astronomy, we’ve rounded up seven of the most memorable JWST images from 2022, its first year in operation. They range from images of the most distant galaxies ever seen to photographs of our own solar system at unprecedented depth.

1. SMACS 0723

NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has produced the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe yet. Known as the first Webb Deep Field, this image of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is packed with detail. (NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI)To start this list off right, let’s start with SMACS 0723, as this was the first image produced by the JWST in full color. Most importantly, however, SMACS 0723 is the clearest and most complete infrared image of the universe ever captured by a telescope.

“This image covers a patch of sky about the size of a grain of sand attached to a long arm. It’s just a small part of the vast universe,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson explained in a statement.

Infrared light has historically been the most difficult part of the electromagnetic spectrum for astronomers to observe, at least from the ground. The Earth’s heat generates infrared light on its own, which is then scattered by the atmosphere, making it virtually impossible for astronomers to see through infrared from ground-based telescopes. The JWST, however, is freed from the confines of Earth and, as such, the need to look through Earth’s infrared light.

2. Carina Nebula

Carina NebulaStar-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula (NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI)

Technically known as NGC 3324, this section of the Carina Nebula at first glance could be mistaken for a modified image shot from a drone looking down where the beach meets the ocean. However, the red-brown “sand” in this image and the blue “water” are actually individual stars mixed together in an emerging stellar nursery. The Carina Nebula isn’t that far away (especially compared to the image above): it’s part of our Milky Way galaxy, specifically in its Carina-Sagittarius arm. This particular viewpoint is also known as the Cosmic Cliffs.

“These observations of NGC 3324 will shed light on the star formation process. Star birth propagates over time, driven by the expansion of the eroded cavity.” NASA writes. “As the bright, ionized edge moves into the nebula, it slowly pushes into the gas and dust. If the edge encounters any unstable material, the increased pressure will cause the material to collapse and form new stars”.

3. Stephan’s Quintet

Stephan's Quintet“Stephan’s Quintet” galaxy group (NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI)

Located in the constellation Pegasus, named after the famous winged horse of Greek mythology, Stefan’s Quintet is more or less what it sounds like: a group of five galaxies, four of which make up the first compact group of galaxies ever discovered. Thanks to the JWST, however, scientists can see both these galaxies and the surrounding celestial bodies in unprecedented detail. The images reveal that two of the galaxies are currently merging and give us insight into how galactic interactions can lead to star formation.

“The image also shows outflows driven by a black hole in Stephan’s Quintet with a level of detail never seen before,” NASA’s communications team said of the image.

4. The Tarantula Nebula

Star-forming region of the Tarantula NebulaStar-forming region of the Tarantula Nebula (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO)

This is an image of the Tarantula Nebula, also known as 30 Doradus, although many have compared it to an abstract portrait of a man sitting cross-legged. It’s actually another interstellar nursery, captured in unprecedented detail thanks to JWST’s infrared cameras. The Tarantula Nebula can be found about 161,000 light-years away from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud. It is best known for accommodation black hole VFTS 243, the first discovery outside the Milky Way that does not radiate strongly. The hottest and most massive stars known to mankind can also be found in the Tarantula Nebula.

“The nebula cavity centered in the NIRCam image has been emptied by blistering radiation from a cluster of massive young stars, which glow pale blue in the image.” NASA explains it on its website. “Only the densest surrounding areas of the nebula resist erosion by the powerful stellar winds of these stars, forming pillars that appear to point back toward the cluster. These pillars contain nascent protostars, which will eventually emerge from their dusty cocoons and they will take their turn to shape the cluster. nebula.”

5. The Southern Ring Nebula

Southern Ring NebulaTwo cameras aboard Webb captured the last image of this planetary nebula, cataloged as NGC 3132 and informally known as the Southern Ring Nebula. It is about 2,500 light years away. (NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI)The Southern Ring Nebula could easily be mistaken for a jellyfish without tentacles. The only features that can ruin this illusion are the waves emanating from its central core. Is it a space monster or a new type of pulsating celestial body?

It’s actually a nebula – the Southern Ring Nebula, to be exact.

Officially named NGC 3132, a planetary nebula is created when a dying star ejects large amounts of mass during a period of successive waves, like the ones we see in these images. This image is notable for its interesting backstory: after it was released, astronomers zeroed in on a narrow filament near the top of the nebula that is radially aligned and appears blue in the near-infrared image. While some scientists don’t think it’s anything remarkable, others speculate that it could be a vanguard galaxy. Upon further investigation, it was revealed that this filament was, in fact, a tip galaxy.

Thanks to more recent JWST researchscientists also now know that “there were at least two, and possibly three, more invisible stars that shaped the oblong and curved. Southern Ring Nebula. Also, for the first time, by combining Webb’s infrared images with existing data from ESA’s (European Space Agency) Gaia observatory, researchers were able to pinpoint the mass of the central star. before created the nebula.”

6. “Excited” Southern Ring Nebula.

Turbulent Southern Ring NebulaWebb image traces scattered molecular streams from stars in the Southern Ring Nebula that have reached the farthest reaches in the cosmos (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO)

JWST took another picture of the aforementioned nebula with a different wavelength camera, and in the process found something that astronomers didn’t know before about the astronomical object, namely that there is at least two or three invisible stars that helped create the nebula. as we know it today.

Regarding this image, NASA website explains that “the Webb image traces scattered molecular streams from the star that have reached farther into the cosmos” and that “blue and green were assigned to Webb’s near-infrared data taken at 2.12 and 4.7 microns (F212N and F470N), and red was assigned to Webb mid-infrared data taken at 7.7 microns (F770W).” In addition, the astronomers combined the JWST data with information from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Gaia observatory to learn the exact mass of the central star before it created the nebula.

7. A new look at Jupiter

Webb NIRCam composite image of JupiterComposite Webb NIRCam image of Jupiter from three filters: F360M (red), F212N (yellow-green), and F150W2 (cyan) and alignment due to the planet’s rotation. (NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team)

jupiter it is the largest planet in our solar system and the fifth planet from the Sun. When you visualize it, your mind probably imagines a giant ball with red, orange, white, and yellow swirling bands. Also think of the iconic Great Red Spot south of its equator.

Using three specialized infrared filters, however, the JWST gave us new data on Jupiter in 2022 and measured different wavelengths of light emanating from the atmosphere. After translating this data into images, using shades of false colors that humans can’t see in the infrared, NASA scientists created an unprecedented, detailed view of Jupiter. This allows viewers to perceive the auroras, or beautiful light shows that appear in the sky, as they exist in Jupiter’s atmosphere. It also shows winds, storms and temperature highs and lows.

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