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Images From Deepest Space

The $10 billion James Webb Telescope has just started sending back its first photos of space, gazing back further than ever before and with a level of detail that's astonishing.

Klaus Pontopiddan, Webb project scientist, describes the moment the team started receiving information from the Webb telescope yesterday: “People were speechless, and there were emotions, because we immediately could see how amazing this observatory would be – the detail, the sharpness, the depth – and when we saw the first colour images we knew we had a winner.”

Southern Ring
Southern Ring | NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

The image of the Southern Ring shows a planetary nebula "caused by a dying star that dispelled a large fraction of its mass in excessive waves", which Nasa says can be seen in the images.

The image shows a bubbly, foamy appearance with some very structured shells, and the orange foam is due to the molecular hydrogen which formed in the expansion, lighting up the gas and dust of the nebula (a body of interstellar clouds). The blue haze closer to the centre of the image is due to hot ionized gas that is heated by the very hot leftover core of the star.

The rays in the outer regions are holes in the inner nebula which are letting the central stars' light come out, giving the appearance of patchy clouds with the sun shining through.

Carina Nebula
Carina Nebula | NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

Amber Straughn, Webb deputy project scientist, describes this image as a "stunning vista of the cosmic cliffs of the Carina Nebula" that "reveals new details about this vast stellar nursery". Straughn adds: "Today for the first time we’re seeing brand new stars that were previously completely hidden from our view. We see examples of bubbles and cavities and jets that are being blown out by these newborn stars, and even some galaxies lurking... We see some examples of structures that we don't even know what they are. The data is so rich."

Stephan's Quintet
Stephan's Quintet | NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

About 290 million light-years away, Stephan’s Quintet is located in the constellation Pegasus.

It’s notable for being the first compact galaxy group ever discovered. Four of the five galaxies within the quintet are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters.

This Webb telescope image doesn’t look that different from the Hubble telescope version at first glance, but the new telescope’s infrared sensitivity will pull out different features for astronomers to study.

Deepest ever image of space

This image is the deepest, most detailed infrared view of the Universe to date, containing the light from galaxies that has taken 13.5 billion years to reach us.

The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second and that light has been travelling for 13.5 billion years - only about a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.

The sheer amount of information each image contains is dizzying. But this treasure trove comes from only a few days of observations - and so far the telescope’s only looked at a minute fraction of the sky - Webb will be capturing the cosmos for the next 20 years. There’s a check list of discoveries that astronomers are hoping to tick off - from seeing the first stars to shine to finding habitable planets beyond our solar system.

But the thing that’s most exciting scientists is the discoveries they haven’t even dreamt of.


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