Amazing space: what we see in the first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope

In addition to the first image from the James Webb Space Telescope, presented with the participation of US President Joe Biden, last night NASA showed the public four more images obtained by James Webb – three photos and planetary spectroscopy data. In fact, there are even more images, because all the objects were captured several times with different tools and with different filters.

About the image of the galactic cluster SMACS 0723, a kind of window into the distant past of our universe, we talked out yesterday, so let’s see what’s in the other pictures.

Second, during yesterday’s press conference, they showed not a photo, but a spectrogram. This is a detailed study of the atmosphere of the gas giant WASP-96b, which has a mass of 0.48 Jupiter masses and orbits at a very small distance of 0.0453 AU (almost 10 times closer than Mercury), around a G-class star similar to our own Sun. The WASP-96 star itself is located in the Phoenix constellation at a distance of 1,160 ± 20 world years from Earth. The planet WASP-96b was found by instruments of the Wide Angle Search for Planets (WASP) consortium back in 2013.

The most interesting thing about the released spectrogram is the signatures of water, as well as a hint of the presence of clouds and fog. Interestingly, the temperature of WASP-96b’s atmosphere is about 725°C. If you wonder how water can exist at such a temperature, consider the gravity of such a massive planet, the density and pressure of the atmosphere of the gas giants.

The image in the background of the spectrogram is an artist’s rendering of WASP-96b based on the received data, not the James Webb image. The published spectrogram is the most detailed study of an exoplanet to date.

The third James Webb image released is of the Southern Ring Nebula, aka NGC 3132, Eight-Burst Nebula, or Caldwell 74. It’s a planetary nebula in the Vela constellation, located 2,000 light-years from Earth. Thanks to the James Webb Observatory’s camera, scientists were finally able to get a good look at the second star in the layers of gas and dust that make up the discarded shells of the dying star.

The compared images were taken in the near-infrared spectrum (0.6–5 microns) and the mid-infrared spectrum (5–28 microns).

The bright star in the picture is in the early stages of evolution, but the dim white dwarf nearby is dying, occasionally throwing its mass into space. Both stars revolve around a common center of mass, “stirring” this “dish”, whose own size has already reached 0.4 light years. The Southern Ring Nebula has existed for several tens of thousands of years, and understanding exactly how the star’s mass ejections occur will allow us to better understand the evolution of stars.

The fourth picture of James Webb is the so-called Stephan’s Quintet – a visual group of galaxies in the constellation Pegasus, discovered in 1877 by the French astronomer Edouard Jean-Marie Stephan. Four of the group’s five galaxies make up the earliest discovered compact galaxy group, the brightest fifth, NGC 7320, is a stand-alone star-forming region.

This is the largest picture ever made public – it has a size of 150 million pixels and is a composite of almost 1,000 individual images. Here you can see both bright regions of new star formation and long arms of gas formed as a result of the gravitational interaction of galaxies. One of the interesting elements of the photo is a giant shock wave formed as a result of the interaction of the galaxy NGC 7318B with other galaxies in the cluster. These regions surrounding the central pair of galaxies are shown in red and gold. The picture is interesting for astronomers from the point of view of the interaction of closely spaced galaxies and their evolution.

And finally, the fifth and perhaps the most dramatic shot of the first series is The Cosmic Cliffs of Carina Nebula (NGC 3372). Carina Nebula is located between 6,500 and 10,000 light-years from Earth and contains many hot and bright spectral class O stars. The two most massive and brightest stars in our Milky Way galaxy, Eta Сarinae and HD 93129A, are also within this nebula. During the powerful explosion of Eta Carinae’s star in 1841, for a while it turned into the second brightest star in the sky.

As for Cosmic Cliffs, it is the edge of a giant gas cavity within NGC 3372, about 7,600 light-years from Earth. This cavity was formed as a result of powerful ultraviolet radiation and stellar wind from extremely massive, young, hot stars located just above the region shown in the photo.

Thanks to the infrared image of the James Webb telescope, we can see young stars inside the dust cloud, and astronomers will be able to learn more about the process of formation of new stars, as well as their interaction with gas clouds.

But let’s be honest, most likely The Cosmic Cliffs, as well as some other objects in the new photos, were chosen due to their photogenic nature. And that’s not bad, they look really impressive, and NASA understands well that PR is very important.

More images taken by the James Webb Space Observatory, spectra and graphs with a detailed explanation of the image can be found at the official website of the mission. You can also download full resolution images here. Be careful, in some cases the “weight” of the files reaches hundreds of MB.

And finally. Here you can compare images of the same areas of space taken by the Hubble and James Web telescopes.

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