James Webb: new images from Nasa telescope show star birth and galaxy clusters in detail

Stunning images will help scientists answer questions that have yet to be asked

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The first full set of colour images from the James Webb Space Telescope have been released, showing detailed views of the universe, including stars forming and atmospheric conditions of a hot gas planet outside of our solar system.

Five cosmic targets were chosen for the first suite of pictures — with the first one showing ancient galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 — which were revealed by US President Joe Biden at a White House briefing on Monday evening.

The remaining four were published on Tuesday and include stunning views of nebulae — giant clouds of dust and gas — planets outside our solar system, or exoplanets, and an area in space where several galaxies interact with each other.

Nasa administrator Bill Nelson said the dazzling images will help scientists answer questions that they have not even asked yet.

“It's clear that Webb represents the best of Nasa,” he said during a watch event at the Goddard Space Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.

“We don't want to ever stop exploring the heavens or stop fearing to take another step forward for humanity.”

Launched in December, the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope aims to look back at the galaxies formed shortly after the Big Bang, almost 13.8 billion years ago.

It will also observe exoplanets and search for life by studying the chemical composition of these planets’ atmospheres.

“This is a celebration for all humanity,” Nasa astronomer Michelle Thaller said.

The space observatory is now fully in its science operations phase, with enough fuel for 20 years.

The National looks at the four latest images released by Nasa, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

Observing WASP-96 b's atmospheric conditions

The telescope has captured the distinct signature of water, along with evidence for clouds and haze, in the atmosphere surrounding a hot, puffy gas giant planet orbiting a distant Sun-like star, called WASP-96 b. Nasa / ESA / CSA / STScI

The telescope captured a spectrum of the exoplanet WASP-96 b, which was discovered in 2013.

It is made up of mostly gas and is half the mass of Jupiter — the largest planet in our solar system.

Located 1,150 light-years from Earth, it orbits its star WASP-96 every 3.4 days.

Webb’s near-infrared imager instrument and Slitless Spectograph instruments were used to make the observations.

These have helped reveal atmospheric characteristics of the hot gas giant.

Researchers are now able to detect and measure key gases in the planet’s atmosphere, including calculating the temperature and presence of haze and clouds

New findings on the Southern Ring Nebula

This side-by-side comparison shows observations of the Southern Ring Nebula in near-infrared light (L) and mid-infrared light by Nasa’s Webb Telescope. Nasa / ESA / CSA / STScI

This planetary nebula, an expanding cloud of gas surrounding a dying star, was captured by the telescope's two on-board cameras.

Located 2,000 light-years from Earth, it was known that the dimmer star at the centre of this scene has been sending out rings of gas and dust for thousands of years in all directions.

Now, the telescope has revealed for the first time that this star is cloaked in dust.

The area is also known as the NGC 3132 and “Eight Burst” Nebula, with the name coming from the round shape that many of them show when observed through a telescope.

It is huge in size, measuring nearly half a light-year in diameter.

These kinds of observations will help astronomers learn more about planetary nebulae similar to these, including which molecules are present and where they lie throughout the shells of gas and dust.

Star birth at Stephan’s Quintet captured in detail

Stephan’s Quintet is an area in space that has a grouping of five galaxies, four that interact with each other. Nasa / ESA / CSA / STScI

Located 290 million light-years away, Stephan’s Quintet, or NGC 7318B, is a compact galaxy group discovered in 1877 that has five galaxies.

Four of them are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters.

Researchers have created an enormous mosaic of this galaxy group, becoming Webb’s largest image to date.

It has more than 150 million pixels and was constructed from almost 1,000 separate image files.

The observations give new insights into how galactic interactions may have caused galaxy evolution in the early universe.

“Sparkling clusters of millions of young stars and starburst regions of fresh star birth grace the image,” Nasa said.

“Sweeping tails of gas, dust and stars are being pulled from several of the galaxies due to gravitational interactions. Most dramatically, Webb captures huge shock waves as one of the galaxies, NGC 7318B, smashes through the cluster.”

New stars are being born in Carina Nebula

Captured in infrared light by Nasa's new James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals areas of star birth in the Carina Nebula. Nasa / ESA / CSA / STScI

This is one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky, located about 7,600 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina, where star birth and death is taking place, creating “colourful fireworks”.

It is home to many massive stars that are at least 50 to 100 times the mass of our Sun.

Telescopes have captured this nebula before, but the James Webb Space Telescope has observed it in sharper detail.

The fireworks in this region started three million years ago when the nebula’s first generation of newborn stars condensed and ignited in the middle of a cloud of cold molecular hydrogen.

“What's happening and sort of the overall landscape is we have these gigantic hot young stars up here to the top of this rim. And the radiation — it's stellar winds from those stars — are sort of pushing down, running into all of this,” said Amber Straugh, deputy project scientist for Webb.

The image of the Carina Nebula taken by the telescope has revealed areas where stars are being born, which were previously invisible.

“I'm just blown away by the level of detail we can see like in the outer part of this nebula, it's incredible,” Ms Straugh said.

Even still, there are galaxies and structures in the image's background that astronomers do not even know yet.

Updated: July 13, 2022, 5:31 AM
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