After decades of waiting, it’s finally time for the world to see the first images taken by the most powerful space telescope ever – the James Webb Space Telescope.

Development of the world’s first space observatory began in 2004 and, after years of delay, the telescope and its massive gold mirror were finally launched on December 25.

The images are worth the wait – and they will forever change the way we see the universe.

President Joe Biden released one of the first images of Webb on Monday, and it is “the deepest, sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date,” according to NASA. The rest of the high-resolution color images debuted on Tuesday.

The space observatory can investigate the mysteries of the universe by observing them through infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye.

Webb will peer into the very atmospheres of exoplanets, some of which are potentially habitable, and may uncover clues in the ongoing search for life outside Earth.
The telescope will also examine every phase of cosmic history, including the first glimmers after the big bang that created our universe and the formation of the galaxies, stars and planets that fill it today.

Now Webb is ready to help us understand the origins of the universe and start answering key questions about our existence, like where we came from and if we’re alone in the cosmos.

The first pictures

The first image, released on Monday, shows SMACS 0723, where a massive group of galaxy clusters act as a magnifying glass for the objects behind them. Called gravitational lensing, this created Webb’s first deep-field view that includes incredibly old and faint galaxies.

Some of these distant galaxies and star clusters have never been seen before. The galaxy cluster is depicted as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago.

The image, taken by Webb’s near-infrared camera, is made up of images taken at different wavelengths of light over a collective 12.5 hours. Deep-field observations are long observations of regions of the sky that can reveal faint objects.

Webb’s other primary targets for the first image release included the Carina Nebula, WASP-96b, the South Ring Nebula, and Stephan’s Quintet.

Webb’s study of the gas giant planet WASP-96b is the most detailed spectrum of an exoplanet to date. The spectrum includes different wavelengths of light that reveal new information about the planet and its atmosphere. Discovered in 2014, WASP-96b is located 1,150 light-years from Earth. It has half the mass of Jupiter and orbits its star every 3.4 days.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope captured a spectrum of WASP-96b.

Webb’s spectrum includes “the distinct signature of water, along with evidence of clouds and haze, in the atmosphere surrounding a hot, puffy gas giant planet orbiting a distant Sun-like star” , according to NASA.

The observation demonstrates “Webb’s unprecedented ability to analyze atmospheres hundreds of light-years away,” according to NASA.

Going forward, Webb will capture actual images of known exoplanets while searching for unknown planets, Knicole Colón, Webb Project Assistant Scientist for Exoplanet Science at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told a conference. Press. And the specter of WASP-96b “barely scratches the surface of what we’re about to learn.”

Colón predicts that scientists will determine the amount of water present in the atmosphere of the exoplanet.

The Southern Ring Nebula, also known as the “Eight-Burst”, is 2,000 light-years from Earth. This large planetary nebula includes an expanding cloud of gas around a dying star. Webb helped reveal previously hidden details about the nebula, which is a shell of gas and dust released by the dying star. The second star in the nebula can be seen in the Webb image, along with how the stars shape the cloud of gas and dust.

The second star is shrouded in dust while the brighter star, at an earlier stage of evolution, will later release its own cloud of gas and dust. As the two stars revolve around each other, they effectively “stir up” the gas and dust, resulting in the patterns seen in the image.

The information provided by images like this could help astronomers understand how stars change their environment as they evolve. Multicolored points of light in the background represent galaxies.

The space telescope view of Stephan’s Quintet shows how galaxies interact with each other. This compact group of galaxies, first discovered in 1787, is located 290 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus. Four of the five galaxies in the group “are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters,” according to a NASA statement.

If you’ve ever watched “It’s a Wonderful Life”, you’ve seen Stephan’s Quintet. Now Webb has revealed the galactic clustering in a new mosaic that is the telescope’s largest image to date.

“Webb’s information provides new insights into how galactic interactions may have driven the evolution of galaxies in the early universe,” according to NASA.

Stephan’s Quintet image provides rare insight into how galaxies can trigger star formation within each other as they interact, as well as black hole-generated streams at a new level of detail.

The gravitational dance between these galaxies can be seen through tails of gas, dust and stars and even shock waves as one of the galaxies passes through the cluster.

Located 7,600 light-years away, the Carina Nebula is a stellar nursery, where stars are born. It is one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky and is home to many stars much more massive than our sun.

Now his “Cosmic Cliffs” are revealed in an amazing new Webb image.

Webb’s ability to see through cosmic dust revealed previously invisible star birth zones in the nebula, which could provide new insights into star formation. The early stages of star formation are harder to grasp, but something Webb’s sensibility can tell.

What looks like a landscape in the image is actually a massive gaseous cavity with “peaks” up to 7 light-years high.

“The cavernous area was carved into the nebula by intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive and hot young stars located in the center of the bubble, above the area shown in this image,” according to NASA. And what looks like “steam” rising from the “mountains” is hot, energetic gas and dust.

The targets were selected by an international committee, including members from NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

A long future of observation

The mission, originally scheduled to last 10 years, has enough excess fuel capacity to operate for 20 years, according to NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.

These will be just the first of many images to come from Webb over the next two decades that promise to fundamentally alter the way we understand the cosmos.

While some of what Webb might reveal has been anticipated, the unknowns are just as exciting for scientists.

“We don’t know yet what we don’t know,” said Amber Straughn, Webb Project Assistant Scientist for Communications at NASA Goddard. “I think it’s true that every time we launch a revolutionary instrument into space, like with Hubble, we learn things that completely surprise us but somehow make us change our fundamental understanding of how space works. universe.”

Hubble’s 31 years have yielded a wealth of discoveries that could not have been anticipated, and the scientific community views Webb and his abilities the same way.

Comparing the early Webb images to other breakthroughs in astronomy, Program Scientist Webb and NASA Astrophysics Division Chief Scientist Eric Smith compared it to seeing the Hubble images after the telescope was repaired and everything came into focus.

“A lot of people sometimes see images of space and they think it makes them feel small,” Smith said. “When I see these images, they make me feel powerful. A team of people can create this amazing instrument to find out things about the universe revealed here, and just see that pride in the team and the pride in humanity. , that when we want to, we can do it.”

“The universe has (always) been out there,” said Webb Operations Project Scientist Jane Rigby at NASA Goddard. “We just had to build a telescope to go see what was out there. Yeah, a very similar feeling, maybe, of people in a broken world managing to do something good and see some of the majesty that’s out there.”

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