Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Webb’s astronomical trove: Cosmic cliffs, birthplace of stars, dying stars

The powerful next-generation James Webb Space Telescope has released a treasure trove of full-colour images from deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date to cosmic cliffs, birthplace of stars, blackhole, dying star’s final “performance”, as well as the atmosphere of distant planet.

The $10 billion Webb telescope, is an international programme led by NASA, European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

The images, taken by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), marks the climax of nearly seven months of carefully orchestrated space operations since the telescope launched on December 25, 2021

The first image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago. The combined mass of this galaxy cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it.

Another is a landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars. It is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by Webb, 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. It also sheds light on the process of star formation.

In another enormous new image, the telescope reveals never-before-seen details of a group of five galaxies called “Stephan’s Quintet”.

The close proximity of Stephan’s Quintet gives astronomers a ringside seat to galactic mergers, interactions

“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,” NASA said.

Webb’s new image shows in rare detail how interacting galaxies trigger star formation in each other and how gas in galaxies is being disturbed.

The image also shows outflows driven by a black hole in Stephan’s Quintet in a level of detail never seen before.

Tight galaxy groups like this may have been more common in the early universe when superheated, infalling material may have fueled very energetic black holes.

The telescope also revealed details of the Southern Ring planetary nebula that were previously hidden from astronomers. Planetary nebulae are the shells of gas and dust ejected from dying stars.

Webb’s powerful infrared view brings this nebula’s second star into full view, along with exceptional structures created as the stars shape the gas and dust around them.

“New details like these, from the late stages of a star’s life, will help us better understand how stars evolve and transform their environments,” NASA said.

The images also reveal a cache of distant galaxies in the background. Most of the multi-coloured points of light seen here are galaxies – not stars.

Further Webb’s enormous mirror, precise instruments joined forces to capture most detailed measurements of starlight filtering through the atmosphere of a planet outside our solar system to date.

The spectrum of light measured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) contains information about the makeup of a planetary atmosphere 1,150 light-years away. It revealed a distinct signature of water.

The strength of the signal that Webb detected hints at the significant role the telescope will play in the search for potentially habitable planets in coming years.

Webb’s powerful new view also shows evidence of haze and clouds that previous studies of this planet did not detect.

The telescope’s first full-colour images and spectroscopic data culminates Webb’s commissioning process, and marks the official beginning of its science mission, NASA said

The $10 billion telescope is an international programme led by NASA, European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. It aims to solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.

Webb's astronomical trove: Cosmic cliffs, birthplace of stars, dying stars(Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)
Webb's astronomical trove: Cosmic cliffs, birthplace of stars, dying stars(Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

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