From the Phantom Galaxy to black holes: James Webb telescope puts space into close-up

The space observatory has been helping to deepen scientists' understanding of the universe

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A $10 billion “time travel machine” has been busily uncovering the secrets of the universe since its launch on Christmas Day in 2021.

From studying the atmospheres of planets outside the solar system to capturing detailed photos of star nurseries, the James Webb Space Telescope continues to impress scientists.

It was launched to help astronomers learn more about the early universe and mysteries of the solar system.

Its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, has discovered numerous moons and planets outside the solar system – or exoplanets, and helped to determine the rate at which the universe is expanding.

But scientists are receiving even more detailed observations from Webb, which is 100 times more powerful than Hubble.

The National takes a look at some of its top discoveries.

Pillars of Creation

Hubble and other telescopes had already taken images of the Pillars of Creation, or Eagle Nebula, but Webb captured it in unprecedented detail.

It is an area in space where young stars are forming, about 7,000 light-years away from Earth.

The space observatory revealed newly formed stars within the nebula's three pillars of gas and dust.

These findings could help scientists better understand how stars grow in these dusty clouds over millions of years and then explode out of them.

Phantom Galaxy

The James Webb Space Telescope helped scientists see the Phantom Galaxy, or M74, better than ever before.

Located about 32 million light-years away from Earth, M74 has spiral arms that are well-defined compared to some other galaxies' more ragged structures.

Webb helped to show the delicate filaments of gas and dust in those spiral arms which wind out from the star cluster at the galaxy's centre.

Most distant black hole

In November, astronomers discovered the most distant black hole ever detected, located about 13.2 billion light-years away from Earth in the UHZ1 galaxy.

The discovery of the celestial object, which is 10 to 100 million times the mass of the Sun, could help scientists understand how black holes became so large in the infancy of the universe.

Scientists used the James Webb Space Telescope to find the host galaxy and then the Chandra X-ray Observatory to detect the black hole.

Black holes are formed by the catastrophic collapse of a star, an event that compresses matter into such a relatively small space that nothing, not even light, can escape its gravitational pull.

Scientists have spent decades studying the space phenomenon, with the first image of a black hole taken in 2019 using powerful telescopes.

Planet outside the solar system

The Webb telescope helped reveal the atmosphere of an exoplanet in August.

Scientists used the telescope’s instruments to unravel secrets of planet WASP-107b, including how its atmosphere is filled with water vapour, sulphur dioxide and silicate sand clouds.

The presence of sulphur dioxide would give the atmosphere the smell of burnt matches.

The exoplanet orbits a star slightly cooler than the Sun and has a mass that is similar to Neptune.

Updated: December 29, 2023, 3:00 AM