James Webb Space Telescope’s First Images Are Spectacular; Brought Astronomers to Tears

Never-seen images of space from the James Webb Space Telescope were released by NASA today, and they are breathtaking.
james webb space telescope images

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a giant satellite telescope that’s equipped with many cutting-edge components that includes a coronagraph designed for studying planets orbiting distant stars. It is able to observe a full spectrum of light, including ultraviolet, visible, and infrared. The JWST can detect planets around distant stars by looking for tiny dips in the star’s brightness, which indicate the presence of an orbiting planet passing in front of the star. 

An incredible mission coordinated between multiple space agencies

The JWST was built with the help of the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency at the cost of 10 billion dollars. Most astronomers will agree that the James Webb Space Telescope is the most advanced space observatory ever built. 

The James Webb Space Telescope went into space on December 25, 2021, on an Ariane 5 rocket. The rocket took off from the European Spaceport in French Guiana (South America). After the Webb Space Telescope successfully went through a complicated deployment sequence in space, it took months to get ready for science. During this time, its mirrors were lined up, and its instruments were calibrated to the space environment.

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A committee made up of people from NASA, ESA, CSA, and the Space Telescope Science Institute decided what should be the first observations that the Webb Space Telescope would make. 

Images of space never seen before released today

Today the full capabilities of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope are being shown to the world for the first time. This marks the start of Webb’s scientific work. 

The images NASA are releasing today include SMACS 0723, WASP-96b (spectrum), The Southern Ring Nebula, Stephan’s Quintet, and Carina Nebula.

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SMACS 0723 

James Webb Space Telescope took the clearest and most detailed infrared picture of the faraway universe to date. It did this in only 12.5 hours. The field of view for this new image, which is a color composite of multiple exposures each about two hours long, is about the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by a person standing on Earth and looking up. About two hours passed between each exposure.

main image deep field smacs0723 1280
credit: James Webb Space Telescope, NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

This deep field was able to find some of the most distant galaxies ever found by using a lensing galaxy cluster. This picture only shows a small part of what Webb can do when it comes to studying deep fields and following galaxies all the way back to the start of the universe.

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WASP-96b (spectrum)

credit: James Webb Space Telescope, NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Webb’s careful study of this hot, bloated planet outside of our solar system shows clear signs of water as well as haze and clouds that were not seen in earlier studies of this planet. This was only possible because WASP-96b could see farther into space than ever before. After making the historic discovery that an extrasolar planet’s atmosphere contains water for the first time, the Webb telescope will now look at hundreds of other systems to learn more about how the atmospheres of other planets are made.

The Southern Ring Nebula

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james webb space telescope images 1
credit: James Webb Space Telescope, NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

The Southern Ring Nebula is a planetary nebula that is about 2,000 light-years away. A planetary nebula is a cloud of gas that is getting bigger and bigger around a dying star. Here, Webb’s powerful infrared eyes show for the first time in full detail a second dying star. Webb can study the dust and gas that is being thrown off by the shells of old stars, which may one day form a new star or planet. This can happen from the time stars are born until they die and become planetary nebulas.

Stephan’s Quintet

credit: James Webb Space Telescope, NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

When Webb looked at this small group of galaxies in the constellation Pegasus, he saw through the cloud of dust that surrounded the center of one galaxy. This showed how fast and what kind of gas was near the supermassive black hole in that galaxy. Stephan’s Quintet was named after a German astronomer named Stephan von Stephan. Now, for the first time, astronomers have the chance to see in unprecedented detail how galaxies that are interacting with each other cause star formation in each other and how the gas in these galaxies is being stirred up.

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Carina Nebula

carina
credit: James Webb Space Telescope, NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

When Webb observed the “Cosmic Cliffs” in the Carina Nebula, it was able to show what had been hidden: the earliest and fastest stages of star formation. By looking at star-forming regions like this one in the southern constellation Carina and others like it, the Webb telescope can be used to see new stars being made and study the gas and dust that helped make them.

Analysis by head of NASA

Bill Nelson, in charge of NASA, says that the James Webb Space Telescope has given people a view of the universe that has never been seen before. 

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These pictures include the most profound infrared view of our universe ever taken. The images will help scientists figure out where we are in the universe and how we fit in with everything else and begin to think of new questions that haven’t even been asked yet.

Webb’s first measurements tell the story of the hidden universe through all of its stages. This includes everything from nearby planets outside of our solar system, which are called exoplanets, to the galaxies in the early universe that can be seen the farthest away. Nelson believes NASA’s work to find out more about the unknown in space is good for everyone.

What next?

Astronomers from all over the world will be able to use any of the James Webb Space Telescope’s four instruments to look at anything from objects in our solar system to the very beginnings of the universe. It is anyone’s guess how even more discoveries in the future will change our perception of the universe.

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Feature image credit: James Webb Space Telescope, NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI