What the James Webb Space Telescope’s first images tell us about the universe – TechCrunch

What the James Webb Space Telescope's first images tell us about the universe - TechCrunch
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NASA released full-color images from the $11 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) on Tuesday, the first of many releases from the superpowerful optical instrument. But even taken by themselves, these five images represent a major achievement and the culmination of a 26-year process to give humanity a more detailed look at the early universe.

The footage released today follows the initial release of footage by President Joe Biden on Monday. That shot, the name “The Web’s First Deep Space” As NASA Administrator Bill Nelson put it live, the SMACS 0723 cluster showed that these galaxies actually represent only a slice of the universe “the size of a grain of sand at the tip of your finger.” .

Today’s discoveries include a galactic cluster and a black hole; the atmosphere of a distant planet; the epic death knell of a distant star; and the “star nursery” where stars are born. Thanks to JWST’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, we’ve had a look at some of these targets before, and they’re all known to astronomers. But thanks to the JWST instruments’ unprecedented sensitivity and ability to see objects in the infrared spectrum, we can see these galactic forms more clearly than ever before.

“Oh my God, it’s working,” said Jane Rigby, Webb’s operations project scientist, when she saw the first focused images from the observatory. “And it’s working better than we thought.”

Signs of water and clouds on a bloated exoplanet

James Webb Space Telescope Wasp96 b

Image credits: NASA

There are over 5,000 confirmed exoplanets, or planets orbiting a star other than our Sun, in the Milky Way alone. The existence of exoplanets raises a fundamental question: are we alone in the universe? Indeed, the express goal of NASA’s Exoplanet Program is to find signs of life in the universe; now, thanks to JWST, scientists can learn more about these planetary bodies, and hopefully learn more about whether life exists on these planets and, if so, under what conditions it might thrive.

This brings us to the exoplanet WASP-96 b, about 1,150 light-years away. It is a large gas giant, more than twice the mass of Jupiter, but 1.2 times larger in diameter. In other words, it’s “bloated,” as NASA puts it. It also has a short orbital period around its star and is relatively uncontaminated by light from nearby objects, making it a prime target for JWST’s optical power.

But this is not an image of an exoplanet’s atmosphere. This is an image of the transmission spectrum of an exoplanet, which at first glance is not very exciting. However, this spectrum, taken with the telescope’s Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), unambiguously showed signs of water and even evidence of clouds. Clouds! It’s an “indirect way” to study exoplanets, James Webb, deputy project scientist Nicole Colon, explained at a media briefing, but the telescope will continue to use direct observational methods next year.

NIRISS can also capture evidence of other molecules such as methane and carbon dioxide. Although these were not observed in WASP-96 b, they may be detected in other exoplanets observed by JWST.

Shells of gas and dust ejected by dying stars

James Webb Space Telescope Southern Ring Nebula

Image credits: NASA

JWST also looked at the planetary nebula, officially called NGC 3132, or the Southern Ring Nebula, giving scientists more clues about the fate of stars at the end of their lives. NASA has shown two side-by-side images of this nebula, one taken in near-infrared light (left) by the scope’s NIRCam and the second taken by JWST’s mid-infrared instrument (right).

A planetary nebula is an area of ​​cosmic dust and gas created by dying stars. This particular telescope, about 2,500 light-years away, was also captured by the Hubble Space Telescope, but NASA says this updated image from JWST provides greater detail of the delicate structures surrounding the binary star system.

Of the two stars (best seen on the right), the lower left has a faint, dying star and a brighter star in an earlier stage of its life. The images also show what NASA calls “shells” surrounding the stars, each marking the period when a dim, dying star (the white dwarf at bottom left in the right image) has lost some of its mass. It has been expelling this material for thousands of years, and NASA says its three-dimensional shape has drifted apart, becoming more like two bowls placed together at the bottom.

Cosmic dance of Stefan’s quintet

Stephen's Quintet James Webb Space Telescope

Image credits: NASA

First observed by the French astronomer Edouard Stephan in 1877, the Stephan Quintet shows the strange interactions of five galaxies in unprecedented detail. This final image consists of nearly 1,000 individual images and 150 million pixels, and is the largest image ever from JWST, representing about one-fifth the diameter of the moon.

The picture is a little misleading; The leftmost galaxy is actually very far away, about 40 million light-years away, while the other four galaxy systems are about 290 million light-years away. These four galaxies are grouped so close together that they are actually interacting with each other.

The image even reveals a supermassive black hole at the center of the tallest galaxy, about 24 million times the mass of the Sun.

I think it might really be heaven

James Webb Space Telescope with space rocks

Image credits: NASA

JWST also gives us a closer look at the Carina Nebula, a region of the Milky Way some 7,600 light-years away. Thanks to JWST’s ability to pierce cosmic dust, the new image shows hundreds of new stars as we look at Carinae with Hubble. The Carina Nebula shows that the birth of stars is not a peaceful, quiet event, but is characterized by highly unstable processes that can be generative as well as destructive in some ways.

The amber landscape at the bottom of the image marks the edge of the nebula’s massive, chaotic star-forming region — so large that the highest points in this amber band, which NASA calls the “Space Cliffs,” are about seven. is a light year high. The data from JWST will give scientists more information about the star formation process and may help them to understand why a certain number of stars form in certain regions, as well as how stars end up with the mass they have.

Ultimately, these achievements are just the beginning. Scientists still have many questions—exoplanets, the formation of the universe, and more—and now they have a powerful new tool in their arsenal to search for answers.

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