bad astronomy | The first JWST images have been revealed

They are here! After more than 25 years of designing, planning and building releaseAnd the unfoldAnd the TestsThe The first scientific images of JWST have been releasedIt reveals the full promise and the amazing nature of what this great observatory can achieve*.

JWST It is an infrared telescope, which means that it is designed to see Light with longer wavelengths than our eyes can perceive. This is important for astronomy: for example, warm objects emit infrared light, and this includes things like dust scattered between stars, planets, brown dwarfs, and more, so we’ll have a better view of these things than ever before. Distant galaxies at the edge of the visible universe are moving away from us due to the expansion of the universethe redshift of the light into the infrared part of the spectrum, this means that JWST will see them clearly and provide us with the best data we have about them.

The huge mirror is 6.5 meters long, Consists of 18 smaller gold-plated hexagonal mirrorscollects a huge amount of light and provides a sharp view of the universe, so the images are clean and high-resolution, and the battery of filters means we can turn them into colorful images to please our eyes and inform our brains.

And oh, your eyes and mind are waiting. Let’s go!

NGC 3132, the Southern Ring Nebula

NGC 3132 he is planetary nebulaAnd the Gas and dust spurted away from a star that looked a lot like the Sun but then ran out of fuel in its core and died.. The central star expanded into a red giant, blowing out thick layers of material, then revealing its hot core which then blew less dense but hotter and faster gas into those previously ejected objects. This resulted in a huge, expanding bubble being carved into it.

The outer material made of cold molecular gas and dust can be seen in NIRCAM (Near Infrared Camera) The image is orange, thick and highly textured with the material being stretched. The hottest ionized gas is called a plasmaIt is seen filling the cavity in blue. The Merry (mid infrared instrument) The camera displays longer wavelengths, and the biggest detection is that the star in the center is actually there two Stars, binary system. The second star is buried in so much material that it cannot be seen at shorter wavelengths.

Binary motion may have formed this nebula, Their orbits revolve around each other by sculpting the way the gas exits. This JWST image will help astronomers understand the conditions under which stars like the Sun die — they spew millions of tons of material into the galaxy, which can then be incorporated into newly formed star formation. Here we see the death of a star, but it also shows how it helps in the birth of the next generation of stars.

Stephan quintet

300 million light years from Earth Stephan quintet, a small group of interacting galaxies… well, four of them as well. The fifth, NGC 7320 (left) is actually a foreground galaxy that coincidentally aligns with the outermost cluster.

The NIRCAM image shows cold gas and dust in the cluster, including some of the two galaxies NGC 7318 a and b (center), which are galaxies deep in the collision process. The gravity of the two galaxies could send streaks of material, Call tidal tailswhich then cool and form stars.

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The MIRI image shows something more: the center of NGC 7139 (top) is very bright, meaning we’re seeing massive light from a supermassive black hole, eagerly devouring gas and dust in the galactic core. This material heats up and glows very hot when dropped. Images like this (and spectra) can tell astronomers a huge amount of information about this process, such as how big a black hole is, how much material it eats, what happens to that material when it falls, and How some of them are blasted away in long, thin beams or jets that can fly away from the black hole at speeds a fair fraction of the speed of light!


1,100 light years or so from Earth is a star similar to the Sun, but orbited around it by an exoplanet similar to the solar system. This planet is WASP-96ba hot planet the size of our Jupiter, but half its mass, and orbits the star once every 3.4 days at a distance of only about 7 million km!

The upper part of WASP-96b’s atmosphere is scorching, around 1,000 °C (1,800 °F). The planet passes in front of the star once per orbit as seen from Earth, an event called a Crossing. Here’s the fun part: The light from the star passes through the planet’s upper atmosphere on its way to Earth. The atoms and molecules in the planet’s air absorb very specific wavelengths of this light. So, if we take a spectrum of this light, and divide it into hundreds or thousands of colors, we can see those narrow dips in brightness caused by the components of the planet’s atmosphere, revealing its composition.

WASP-96b was specifically chosen because it lacks clouds, which allows us to delve deeper into its atmosphere. JWST has done just that, and the spectrum taken reveals the presence of water vapor in the planet’s atmosphere! The dips in the spectrum are where hot water – vapor – absorbs infrared radiation. It tells us not only that it is there, but how much it is. Not only that, but the dips don’t quite match up with the clear-atmosphere models, which means it’s there be Some clouds in the sky of WASP-96b, as well as haze – small particles suspended in the atmosphere.

We’ve seen the spectra of transiting hot exoplanets before, but nothing close to these details in the infrared. More spectra of other planets will reveal more information, such as the presence or absence of things like silicate (a rocky substance), methane, and more. This process should also work for smaller planets, although it is more difficult. Future observations could reveal what happens in the atmospheres of planets more similar to the one we live on, but stars orbit around trillions or four billion kilometers.

Carina Nebula

In the southern constellation Carina there is a huge, sprawling cloud of gas and dust ridiculously called Carina Nebula. About 7,000 light-years away from Earth, it is one of the most active Milky Way galaxy star forming factories.

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In this JWST NIRCAM image, you can see a handful of very massive and luminous stars above. This blasts radiation and winds from subatomic particles that gobble up and evaporate gas and dust. This leaves behind a wall of material – that shiny, scalloped horizontal line – with denser material below and less dense, hotter material on top. It almost looks like a mountain ridge or, appropriately, a cloud bank.

In the MIRI image we can see the effects of this: dozens of stars are born there, Some people blow off gasothers are still deeply surrounded by the substances that make up them.

We understand a lot about star birth, but the devil is in the details. High-resolution images like these will help us better see the assembled process, and the infrared spectra of individual stars will yield huge amounts of information about how stars first turned on, what happens to the material around them when that happens, and how those materials will form planets.

SMEX 0723

The first deep field image of JWST shows SMACSJ0723.3−7327A group of galaxies, a group of hundreds of galaxies orbiting around their common center of gravity. It is located about 4.5 billion light-years from Earth.

Now I take care of you, This picture is a bit confusing. Sharp objects with smooth bulges are all stars in our Milky Way, perhaps hundreds or thousands of light-years away. But everything is vague you see? These are whole galaxies, all probably billions of light-years away. There are thousands of them in this picture.

In the thousands.

Here’s the fun part: only some of these are part of the SMACSJ0723.3−7327 set! The nearly circular white dots are part of the cluster. But you can also see dozens of tall galaxies, curved into arcs or stained into slug-like structures. These are much farther galaxies, behind the cluster as seen from Earth.

The combined mass of galaxies in the cluster distorts the light from the objects behind them, amplifying their size and amplifying their brightness. In a process called gravitational lensing. This can attract them like candy, making them look like bows. But the individual galaxies in the cluster bend and distort the shapes, so some of the shapes are even stranger.

The beauty of this is that those distant galaxies can be too dim to be seen without the effect of the lens, so many of these galaxies are very far from what we would normally observe. Above that are galaxies unconnected to the background, scattered like diamonds on velvet, each with billions of stars.

I’ll add that while this looks like many similar Hubble images, The big difference is that this is an infrared image; What you see displayed in blue is actually a wavelength of about 1 μm, in the near infrared, green 2 – 2.8 μm, orange 3.56 μm, and red 4.44 μm; This longer wavelength is about 7 times longer than what our eyes can see. Also, the Hubble Deep Fields were several days out of the total exposure time. JWST’s larger mirror only allowed this photo to be taken 12 hours.

While the arcs, streaks, etc. are beautiful and striking, the galaxies I care about most are the little red dots. Those are the furthest, seen when the universe was a small child. The spectra of those elements will be crucial to understanding what the universe was doing at the time, and will be one of the biggest contributions JWST will make to astronomy.

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How far are those red dots? JWST took spectra of some of them, divided their light into individual infrared colors, and we can examine the features of this spectrum to find out the distance to that galaxy, the elements in it, and many other properties.

This spectrum reveals that the light left him 13.1 billion years ago, when the universe was only 700 million years old. Despite this youth, we also see the presence of neon and oxygen: they are made in stars and then blasted into the galaxy when they die, so even at such a young age the galaxy has gone through at least one generation of stars that are born and die.

I can write a thousand words on this stunning image: galaxies are relatively close and much farther away; The same spacetime curvature that reveals the mass and structure of SMACS 0723; Images of stars forming in distorted background galaxies; Other “field” galaxies redden due to dust and distance; even beauty Images of stars caused by diffraction In our galaxy scattered in the foreground.

But instead I will leave you with a simple idea, one that is very direct but so deep that it is easy to understand and the most difficult thing:

This image has a width of 2.4 arc minutes. This is an angle scale, and for comparison, the width of the full moon in the sky is 30 arc minutes, which is approximately 15 times wider than this entire image.

What is the volume of 2.4 minutes then? It’s the same angle as a half-millimeter-wide grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arm’s length. Hold it on the pad of your index finger, and bring your arm in front of you. That little grain of sand obscures all these thousands and thousands of galaxies.

Now think about the size of the sky compared to a grain of sand. This entire sky could fit something like 25 million Such pictures in it. This picture is a very small part of the universe, but it shows wonders and delights in thousands.

What will we see when JWST stares at one spot in the sky for this long, how many tens of thousands of distant galaxies will be revealed? How many hundreds of billions are waiting for our investigation?

Once you understand that, you’ll glimpse why astronomers do what they do.

It’s a massive world, and we want to understand all of that. With JWST, we’ve taken a huge step forward in doing exactly that.

*NB: Because of the controversy over the name of this observatoryI will simply refer to it as JWST. I hope NASA will reconsider the name, but until that is done, the abbreviation will suffice.

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