A quintet of galaxies. A nursery of baby stars. A weather report for an exoplanet. And a preview of the setting of our own sun.
After years of delays, a 930,000-mile journey into space, and months of speculation about what the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope might reveal, NASA on Tuesday released the first full set of images taken from its 10 billion Dollar Observatory.
They show stars in their infancy and in their last breaths, along with expansive views of the cosmos and the majestic objects within.
“Each point of light we see here is a single star, not unlike our sun. And many of them probably have planets, too,” said NASA astrophysicist Amber Straughn while presenting an image of the Carina Nebula, a multicolored landscape of gas and nascent stars.
“It just reminds me that our sun and our planets and ultimately we were formed from the same material that we see here,” she said. “We humans are really connected to the universe. We are made of the same stuff in this beautiful landscape.”
As the universe expands, the earliest galaxies are receding from us so rapidly that the visible light they emit is stretched into infrared wavelengths that neither humans nor the Hubble Space Telescope can see.
But Webb can. That means it’s able to see the very first stars to glow. The telescope’s two infrared cameras — the near-infrared camera (NIRCam) and the mid-infrared instrument (MIRI), each tuned to different parts of the light spectrum — can also see past the dust and gas that sometimes obscure Hubble’s view.
“The images are absolutely spectacular,” said Andrea Ghez, a UCLA astrophysicist who received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Physics for her role in discovering the supermassive black hole at the core of the Milky Way.
Later this year, Ghez and her colleagues will use Webb to study star formation at the center of our galaxy. Hers is one of 286 research teams that NASA has approved to collect observations of Webb in their first year.
“I can’t wait to see what these images will reveal about the black hole’s wider environment,” she said.
Michael Ressler, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge who helped design MIRI, said the clearer images of objects already seen by the Hubble Space Telescope might be stunning, but they’re not what he finds most exciting – “It’s actually seeing things we’ve never seen before.”
All of the images released Tuesday point to something scientists didn’t know about the cosmos.
“It’s the beauty, but also the history,” NASA astrophysicist John Mather, Webb’s senior project scientist, said after the unveiling. “It’s the story of where we come from.”
Here’s a closer look at what Webb saw in his first few weeks on the job.
https://www.latimes.com/science/story/2022-07-12/nasa-james-webb-space-telescope-first-five-images Images from the James Webb Space Telescope