Unseen universe: NASA gives detailed glimpse with James Webb images

12 Jul 2022

Stephan's Quintet. Image: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

With out-of-this-world images, the James Webb Space Telescope has given us a more detailed view and understanding of space.

NASA has released more images of space taken by the James Webb Space Telescope today (12 July).

The US space agency gave stargazers a preview of what was to come some hours before today’s live broadcast, with an image of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 as it appeared 4.6bn years ago.

The first image was revealed to the public for the first time at a White House event. US president Joe Biden described the moment the image was shown as “historic”.

The James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful space observatory ever built. It is a successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. It was launched last December to advance space exploration beyond the realms of what has, until now, seemed impossible.

NASA invited the public to a livestream featuring its space exploration experts talking about the behind-the-scenes processes that led to the discoveries from James Webb.

It unveiled several new breathtaking images of space taken by the telescope.

An image of a landscape of mountain-like structures speckled with glittering stars shows the edge of a young, star-forming region called NGC 3324. It is located in the Carina Nebula.

The image was captured in infrared light by James Webb. It shows previously invisible areas of star birth.

Carina Nebula by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Carina Nebula. Image: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

The largest image James Webb has taken to date shows Stephan’s Quintet, a group of five galaxies. Viewers will see sparkling clusters of millions of young stars and regions of fresh star birth, as well as sweeping tails of gas, dust and stars. The image has also captured huge shockwaves as one of the galaxies, NGC 7318B, smashes through the cluster. This is an added bonus to what is a completely new visualisation.

Stephan's Quintet image by the James Webb Space Telescope.

Stephan’s Quintet. Image: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

Images of the planetary nebula, known as the Southern Ring Nebula, or NGC 3132, were also released today. It is around 2,500 light years away. Thanks to the image released by James Webb, scientists now know that the dimmer star at the centre of this image is cloaked in dust.

Southern Ring Nebula photographed by James Webb Space Telescope.

Southern Ring Nebula. Image: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

James Webb has also captured what NASA called “the distinct signature” of water, along with evidence for clouds and haze, in the atmosphere surrounding a hot, puffy gas giant planet orbiting a distant Sun-like star.

The Hubble Space Telescope captured the first clear detection of water in 2013. However, Webb’s more detailed observation marks a giant leap forward in the quest to characterise potentially habitable planets beyond Earth.

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.