Greenbelt, Maryland – After a presidential reveal on Monday, NASA unveiled more exciting images of “first light” fromOn Tuesday, show off interacting galaxies, the death throes of a star doomed, and a stellar nursery where huge young suns are born, glowing with stormy solar winds carving out vast clouds of gas and dust.
Even to the untrained eye, the images carry the viewer far from the realm of the icon, which has produced a steady stream of amazing discoveries and images over the past three decades. For astronomers, the views from Webb are nothing short of breathtaking.
said Jane Rigby, Web Operations Project Manager at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “These are incredible abilities that we have never had before.”
Software scientist Eric Smith described the early release images as the result of a “running drill” using the four Web tools. However, “We’re making discoveries and haven’t even started trying yet. The promise of this telescope is amazing.”
Fans geared up waving lightsabers chanting “JWST, JWST,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, top agency managers and a throng of enthusiastic Webb engineers and scientists gathered in a ballroom at Goddard to collectively share the moment the images were revealed, one by one. time.
“In the words of Carl Sagan famously,” Nelson said, “somewhere there is an incredible thing waiting to be known.” “I believe these words have come true.”
First, the spectrum of starlight passing through the atmosphere of an exoplanet was 1,150 light-years from Earth, a world half the size of Jupiter orbiting its star near the planet Mercury that orbits Earth’s sun. The spectrum shows the chemical fingerprint of water vapor in the infernal atmosphere of the planet.
Taking spectra of the atmospheres of exoplanets is nothing new, but Webb’s clearer infrared vision is greatly advancing the latest technology, allowing more data to be collected in less time. Astronomers may one day be able to discover the effects of biological activity on planets in distant solar systems by studying compounds in their atmospheres.
Nobody promises such achievements from Webb, but the ability to analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets using the world’s most powerful infrared telescope is a major step in this direction.
Next was a stunning view of the Southern Ring Nebula, a half-light-year-wide cloud of expanding gas and debris thrown out by a central star approaching the end of its life as its core ran out of nuclear fuel and its fusion grinds into position. It’s a fate that awaits the sun in another five billion years or so.
The earlier Hubble Space Telescope view of the Southern Ring Nebula was stunning in itself, as it showed a massive smoke ring-like cloud surrounding a bright inner star. But Webb’s view goes much further, showing not one but two stars in the nebula’s core and much more detail in the structure of the expanding gaseous shells.
Then came a charming image of the Stefan Quinta, a well-known group of five galaxies in the constellation of Pegasus 290 million light-years from Earth that was discovered in 1877, the first converging group of galaxies to be discovered.
Four of the five galaxies are spiral galaxies interacting gravitationally in a slow-moving train wreck of some kind in the process of merging to eventually become one massive elliptical galaxy.
Galaxy mergers are common throughout the history of the universe, and studying the details of such collisions is one of Webb’s main goals. The image unveiled on Tuesday resolves previously unseen stars and clusters in galaxies, and even captures light generated by debris racing around a supermassive black hole.
Finally, Webb’s team has revealed a mind-boggling scene showing part of the Carina Nebula, a vast star-forming region in the southern constellation Carina about 7,600 light-years from Earth, four times the size of the most famous Orion Nebula.
Visible to the unaided eye, the Carina Nebula is home to the Milky Way’s most famous star as well as the binary system Eta Carinae, which includes a massive Sun expected to explode in a supernova explosion in the near (astronomically) future.
The part of the nebula that appeared on Tuesday is teeming with bright, massive young stars as well as remnants of supernova explosions that signal the catastrophic death of stars much larger than the sun. Strong solar winds blow off hot young stars, turning the gas clouds around them into intricately structured structures.
Images unveiled Tuesday after an initial release Monday at the White House when President Biden unveiled a razor-sharp “deep field“Look at a group of distant galaxies with many arcs of light, and the distorted scenes of background galaxies amplified by the cluster’s combined gravity.
Looking back in space and time more than ever, Biden said, within a few hundred million years from the moment the universe exploded into existence 13.8 billion years ago, the image represents a “new window into the history of our universe.” .
Taken together, the images are clear evidence, if necessary, that Webb is finally ready to begin scientific operations six months after its publication.And years of technical problems, management errors and billions in cost overruns.
“These releases represent five days of observation with this observatory,” said Randy Kimball, a Web project scientist at Goddard. “And it includes something that is a deeper infrared image than has ever been captured in history, deeper than the Hubble images that took weeks to get. It was done in half a day with Webb.”
In the weeks and months since Webb’s launch, scientists and engineers have deployed and precisely aligned the 18 segments that make up the 21.3-foot-wide Webb Mirror, opened a giant canopy to help cool the optics to a few degrees from absolute zero and carefully examined and calibrated the observatory’s four instruments.
Unlike the Hubble Space Telescope, which mostly observes light in the visible part of the spectrum, Webb has been optimized to study infrared radiation of longer wavelength, allowing it to capture light from the dawn of the universe that has been stretched by the expansion of space itself over the past 13.8 billion years. .
One of Webb’s primary goals is to capture light from the first generation of stars and galaxies in the process of forming in the aftermath of the Big Bang.
But the telescope will also be used to address other outstanding questions, mapping the evolution of galaxies through time, how they grow and merge in cataclysmic collisions, the life cycles of stars from birth to death by a supernova, and the nature of exoplanets that are equally common as grains of sand across the Milky Way.
The images released on Tuesday, along with the previous deep field, display those general themes, convincingly demonstrating that Webb, the most expensive science probe ever created, is up to the task.
“I am very happy and very satisfied,” said John Mather, Nobel Prize winner and chief scientist at the Webb Project. “It’s impossible to express how difficult it really is. We’ve taken a lot of risk by saying we’re going to do it, and it’s almost impossible. But we did.”
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