The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)’s James Webb Space Telescope’s images are taking us closer to the dawn of time. The telescope has captured the highest definition and sharpest infrared images of the vast distant universe, to date.
NASA released the first image of the deep universe on 12 July 2022, and the album just keeps on growing. The first image, known as Webb’s Deep Field, shows the clearest image of the cluster of thousands of galaxies, termed SMACS 0723. A treasure trove of unfathomable information and details, the slew of images gives a glimpse of the vast expanse that lies beyond the Milky Way. Minute details and even the faintest objects are captured by the James Webb telescope with precision. NASA says, “This slice of the vast universe is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.” Taking us closer to the origin, the first image shows the galaxy cluster 4.6 billion years ago.
The Hubble’s telescope has also examined and captured images of exoplanetary atmospheres over the past two decades. While it confirmed the first clear detection of water in 2013, the images captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) are a giant leap forward. The latter’s ability to detect the trace presence of gas molecules, based on differences in brightness of precise colours of light and document detailed accounts of atmospheres hundreds of light years away, is evidence of its technological prowess.
The array of photographs, gradually being released, are testimony to the fact that indeed we are just a speck of dust in the abyss of space. Opening up new vistas of space exploration and unchartered avenues in astronomy, NASA has gone leaps and bounds ahead by going back in time with these images of nebulae, galaxies and stars whose light is reaching us hundreds of years later.
Here are the images taken by James Webb Space Telescope
Known as Webb’s First Deep Field, this image of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is overflowing with detail. Thousands of galaxies – including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared – have appeared in Webb’s view for the first time. This slice of the vast universe covers a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground.
Southern Ring Nebula
This side-by-side comparison shows observations of the Southern Ring Nebula in near-infrared light, at left, and mid-infrared light, at right, from NASA’s Webb Telescope.
The dimmer star at the center of this scene has been sending out rings of gas and dust for thousands of years in all directions, and NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has revealed for the first time that this star is cloaked in dust.
Two cameras aboard Webb captured the latest image of this planetary nebula, cataloged as NGC 3132, and known informally as the Southern Ring Nebula. It is approximately 2,500 light-years away.
This enormous mosaic is Webb’s largest image to date, covering about one-fifth of the Moon’s diameter. It contains over 150 million pixels and is constructed from almost 1,000 separate image files. The information from Webb provides new insights into how galactic interactions may have driven galaxy evolution in the early universe.
Sparkling clusters of millions of young stars and starburst regions of fresh star birth grace the image. Sweeping tails of gas, dust and stars are being pulled from several of the galaxies due to gravitational interactions. Most dramatically, Webb captures huge shock waves as one of the galaxies, NGC 7318B, smashes through the cluster.
This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by NASA’s new James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals for the first time previously invisible areas of star birth.
Called the Cosmic Cliffs, Webb’s seemingly three-dimensional picture looks like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening. In reality, it is the edge of the giant, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, and the tallest “peaks” in this image are about 7 light-years high. The cavernous area has been carved from the nebula by the intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive, hot, young stars located in the center of the bubble, above the area shown in this image.
A large galaxy on the right, with two smaller companion galaxies to the left 10 o’clock & 9 o’clock. The large galaxy resembles a ghostly wheel with diffuse blue-white spokes revolving around a glowing core. The outer edges of the wheel are faint dots of yellow, pink and blue, with some gaps in between. The bottom right edge is marked by a large 8-pointed star. The smaller galaxies on the left look very different from each other. The top galaxy appears to be constructed of the same yellow, pink, & blue speckles as the larger galaxy’s outer ring, with a similar light blue core. Its shape is less recognizable as a spiral; it looks like a chaotic oval smattering of dots. The galaxy below it glows blueish, but its nucleus and spiral structure are apparent, and we are looking at it face-on. Sprinkled in the black background are specks of pink, blue, yellow & orange, which are distant galaxies.
A space image captured by the Webb telescope. Fluffy tan-coloured nebula clouds, with rust-coloured highlights, surround a black central area. Within that area, the focal point of the image is one large yellow star with eight long thin points. To the right of this star is a bright star cluster in an oval shape. The stars within the cluster look like tiny pale blue sparkles. The cluster is more densely packed at its core and scatters outward. Towards the bottom of the image, multiple arms appear to spiral out of a cloudy tan knob, resembling a spider or a squid structure. Other blue and yellow eight-pointed stars, as well as distant galaxies, are dotted throughout the image.
This is a zoomed out view of Neptune, its rings and its moons as captured by Webb. Neptune’s moon Triton, resembling a small teal snowflake, is the central focal point, with a tiny ringed, pearl-like Neptune below and to the right of it. The black background is filled with galaxies, 8-pointed bright objects and dots. A small white spiral galaxy in the bottom left corner is particularly visible.
All images and descriptions: Courtesy NASA