- The James Webb Space Telescope can capture a more complete view of galaxies, stars and planets.
- The mighty telescope is 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, Hubble, and uses infrared light.
- JWST began science operations in July. Scientists point out that it is only beginning to unveil the universe.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has been providing breathtaking views of the cosmos since science operations began this summer.
Before Webb, astronomers had another workhorse cosmic observatory: the Hubble Space Telescope. Both are space telescopes, but they differ in many ways. Hubble sees ultraviolet light, visible light, and a small slice of infrared, while Webb looks at the universe through the infrared spectrum.
Webb is 100 times more powerful than Hubble, allowing astronomers to look even further into space. As his first few months of observations have proven, Webb is capable of taking the most striking snapshots of the universe to date.
Webb provided crisp views of Jupiter’s auroras and storms that Hubble can’t see
In August, Webb took images of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. Compared to Hubble’s images of the gas giant, above left, Webb offers a sharper, sharper picture and presents new details of Jupiter’s auroras and storm systems.
In Webb’s image of Jupiter, top right, the planet’s Great Red Spot – a massive storm that has been swirling around for centuries – is so bright in reflected sunlight that it appears white.
Webb’s infrared image also shows Jupiter’s auroras illuminating both poles of the planet. Auroras are colorful displays of light that are not unique to Earth. Jupiter has the most powerful auroras in the solar system, according to NASA.
On Earth and Jupiter, auroras occur when charged particles from the sun interact with the magnetic field – known as the magnetosphere – that surrounds a planet. Jupiter’s magnetic field is about 20,000 times stronger than Earth’s.
Webb revealed threadlike filaments in the Orion Nebula hidden in Hubble
NASA has released images of the Orion Nebula – a massive star-forming region 1,350 light-years from Earth – which Webb took in September. The nebula is the stellar nursery closest to us.
Dense clouds of cosmic dust in the nebula obscure star-forming structures from instruments that rely on visible light, such as in Hubble’s image of the nebula, top left. By gathering infrared light, Webb is able to peer into these layers of dust, giving astronomers unprecedented views of the various components of the nebula.
Astronomers believe that nebulae are clouds dominated by vast, tangled, filamentary structures called filaments that feed materials like gas to form and power stars. Webb’s images reveal these gassy threads in great detail.
Webb revealed hundreds of stars that Hubble couldn’t see in the epic Pillars of Creation
In October, NASA released a snapshot Webb took of the Pillars of Creation – towering columns of gas and dust where stars are born. The epic stellar nursery is in the vast Eagle Nebula, a cloud of dust and gas 6,500 light years away.
Hubble also photographed the famous nursery in 1995, top left. Comparing the two images next to each other, Webb’s camera drills through solid columns of cosmic dust, revealing hundreds of stars that Hubble couldn’t see.
Webb has spied countless galaxies that Hubble has missed
One of the first images NASA shared with Webb was a “deep field” image – a long-exposure observation of a region of sky, which allows the telescope to capture light from extremely faint distant objects. The image took less than a day to capture, according to Nasa.
When unveiling the image in July, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said if you held a grain of sand at arm’s length, it would represent the grain of the universe you see in this image.
“The deep-field image fills me with wonder and hope,” Lisa Kaltenegger, professor of astronomy at Cornell University and director of the Carl Sagan Institute, told Insider.
A side-by-side of Hubble’s Deep Field next to Webb’s reveals just how sharper and louder the new space observatory is.
Webb revealed 2 stars inside this nebula, where Hubble only saw one
This is the Southern Ring Nebula, where a dying star is slowly expelling layers of its atmosphere in successive waves, creating ever-expanding bubbles of colored gas. Scientists knew there were two stars in the center of the nebula, but couldn’t see them in the Hubble images.
Webb’s new image reveals the dying star, glowing red because it’s surrounded by dust, right next to its white star.
An iconic cluster of 5 galaxies is much brighter and clearer in Webb’s eyes
Four of the galaxies in this image from Stephan’s Quintet are about 300,000 light-years away, locked in a cosmic dance as each galaxy’s gravity influences the others.
The Webb image also reveals new galaxies far in the background, which were not visible to Hubble.
Where Hubble saw a weak spot, Webb solved 2 separate mystery objects
Dan Coe, a researcher at the Space Telescope Science Institute, first discovered this object in deep space about 10 years ago, using Hubble.
“With Hubble, it was just this faint red dot. We could tell it was really small, just a tiny galaxy in the first 400 million years of the universe. Now we’re looking with Webb, and we’re capable of resolving TWO objects,” Coe said in an October NASA statement.
Hubble and Webb study the early universe through gravitational lensing. This is what happens when a cluster of distant galaxies is so massive that it distorts spacetime, deflecting light from distant galaxies behind it. This creates mirror images of these galaxies, reflected towards us.
Thus, the footprint of the mysterious objects appears in three points in the images above. The bursts of these three system images, on the right, show how much clearer Webb’s images are. They clearly show two different objects.
“We are actively discussing whether these are two galaxies or two star clusters within a galaxy,” Coe said in the statement. “We don’t know, but these are the questions Webb is designed to help us answer.”
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