Amazing images show the universe like never before
It was the gift of $10 billion to the world. A machine that would show us our place in the universe.
The James Webb Space Telescope was launched exactly one year ago, on Christmas Day. It had taken three decades to plan, design and build.
Many wondered whether this successor to the famous Hubble space telescope could actually live up to expectations.
We had to wait a few months while the epic 6.5m primary mirror was unpacked and focused, and the other systems tested and calibrated.
But yes, it was everything they said it would be. The American, European and Canadian space agencies held a celebration in July to release the first color images. What you see on this page are some of the later published photos that you may have missed.
The first thing to remember about James Webb is that it is an infrared telescope. It sees the sky at wavelengths of light beyond what our eyes can discern.
Astronomers use the various cameras to explore parts of the cosmos, such as these great towers of gas and dust. The Pillars were a favorite target of Hubble. It would take you several years to travel at the speed of light to traverse this entire scene.
They call this scene the Cosmic Cliffs. It’s the edge of a giant gaseous cavity in another dusty star-forming nebula known as Carina.
The cavity is sculpted by the intense ultraviolet radiation and winds from hot, young stars that are just out of view.
From one side of this image to the other is a distance of about 15 light years. One light-year is equal to about 9.46 trillion km (5.88 trillion miles).
This large galaxy on the right was discovered in the 1940s by the great Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky. The intricate cartwheel structure is the result of a head-on collision with another galaxy. Its diameter is about 145,000 light-years.
James Webb doesn’t just look into the deep universe. It also studies objects in our own solar system. This jewel is the eighth planet from the sun: Neptune, seen with its rings. The little white dots around it are moons, as is the big “pointed star” above it. That’s Triton, Neptune’s largest satellite. The spikes are an artifact of the way James Webb’s mirror system is constructed.
Orion is one of the most famous parts of the sky. It is a star-forming region, or nebula, about 1350 light-years from Earth. Here Webb proposes a feature called the Orion Bar, a wall of dense gas and dust.
In one of the biggest space stories of the year, NASA sent a spacecraft flying an asteroid called Dimorphos to see if it was possible to deflect the path of the 160-foot-wide rock. It was a test of a strategy to defend the Earth against menacing asteroids. James Webb caught the rain of 1,000 tons of debris that moved up on impact.
This was one of the most intriguing Webb images of the year. The “WR” refers to Wolf-Rayet. It’s a kind of star, a big one reaching the end of its life. Wolf-Rayets blow huge winds of gas into space. An unseen companion star in this image compresses those winds to form dust. The dusty shells you see stretch for 10 trillion km. That is 70,000 times the distance between the Earth and our sun.
Nicknamed the Phantom Galaxy, M74 is known for its showy spiral arms. It’s about 32 million light-years from Earth in the constellation of Pisces and lies almost directly in front of us, giving Webb a perfect view of those arms and their structure. The telescope’s detectors are particularly good at detecting all fine filaments of gas and dust.
You can still hear Jonathan’s Discovery Program for the BBC World Service in which he discusses the Webb project with his leading scientists and engineers.
#Amazing #images #show #universe