NASA released two images Tuesday showing the James Webb Space Telescope Image of the Southern Ring Nebula, a vast cloud of dust and gas 2,000 light-years from Earth.
Webb’s infrared vision, which helps him see through the nebula’s cosmic dust, also revealed something that hadn’t been seen before: a side view of a distant galaxy lurking in the background of the photo.
“I made a bet that said, ‘It’s part of the nebula,'” said Karl Gordon, a NASA astronomer, during the image reveal. “I lost the bet because we then took a closer look at both the Nircam and MIRI images and it’s clearly a galaxy from the side.” As Webb looks at the edge of the galaxy, it appears like a long, bluish thin line in the top left of the image. From this perspective, astronomers can study how stars are distributed in a galaxy.
Webb scientists are yet to provide additional information about the galaxy that photobombed the Southern Ring Nebula. “Wow. Wow. That. This near-infrared image is — wow,” said Alex Lockwood, a project scientist, as she shared the two new images of the nebula. on Tuesday.
Often described as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb was launched on December 25, 2021 after more than two decades of development. Since then, the $10 billion telescope has traveled more than 1 million miles from Earth and is now stationed in a gravitationally stable orbit, collecting infrared light. By collecting infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, Webb is able to penetrate cosmic dust and see far into the past, to the first 400 million years after the Big Bang.
To demonstrate the capabilities of the telescope and show that the telescope is finally operational, NASA debuted his first series of full-color images. The powerful telescope captured two different views of the Southern Ring Nebula, both in mid-infrared and near-infrared light.
The Southern Ring, or “Eight Burst” nebula, is a living shroud of gas and dust being blasted into space by a dying star.
“As the star dies, it begins to tremble in its last death throes. He pulses after the unveiling of the pictures. “So you see what the star was doing just before it created this planetary nebula. I find it fascinating because it’s like geological layers and you can see the story of its final moments.”
The new images not only show this dying star in more detail, but also revealed a second star gravitationally bound to it previously not visible. Astronomers said that studying the once-hidden stars closely will help them understand how they shape the cloud of gas and dust.
At the weekend, the JWST team started its first year of normal scientific operations. “Today, the Webb Mission is open for science business,” said Michelle Thaller, associate director of science communication at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, adding, “And the best is yet to come.”