Since its launch, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has been working hands-free (or rather, “eyes closed”). During almost a year of the observatory’s operation, a lot of amazing astrophotographs have accumulated: we have already published a selection of Webb’s first scientific images and compared the works with the work of his predecessor Hubble, and now we are publishing an expanded gallery.
The observatory was launched into space in December last year, and in mid-January 2022 it reached a working halo orbit around the second Lagrange point in the Sun-Earth system, and in July, after several months of instrument calibration and optics adjustment, it finally began its scientific program .
In addition to the largest mirror for exploring the outermost corners of space, Webb has four advanced scientific instruments: the NIRCam near-infrared camera, the MIRI mid-IR instrument, the NIRSpec near-IR spectrograph, and the FGS/ system. With their help, astrophysicists hope to get answers to many fundamental questions in the future, primarily about the formation of exoplanets.
James Webb’s first targets included exoplanet atmospheres, protoscopies, circumstellar disks, quasars, trans-Neptunian objects, and comets. Next, photos of the most amazing objects already recorded by the observatory’s cameras during the year of operation.
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The Keele Nebula (NGC 3372)
Stefan Quintet (HCG 092)
The first image of Jupiter, created from several Webb frames, shows the auroras at the planet’s north and south poles, caused by fluctuations in the magnetic field. An interesting fact – the auroras on Jupiter are the brightest in the Solar System. They are almost a thousand times stronger than earthly ones.
The images also clearly show the Great Red Spot – a giant atmospheric vortex at the equator of the planet, 1.3 times larger than the diameter of the Earth.
Phantom Galaxy (M 74)
Tarantula Nebula (NGC 2070)
Some of the rings in the photo have not been observed since Voyager 2 observed Neptune during its flyby in 1989. In addition to several bright narrow rings, Webb’s image clearly shows Neptune’s fainter dust lanes.
Webb also photographed 7 of Neptune’s 14 known moons: Galatea, Naiad, Thalassa, Despina, Proteus, Larissa, and Triton. Neptune’s large moon, Triton, dominates the landscape as a very bright point of light with characteristic diffraction peaks seen in many of Webb’s images.
Galaxy IC 5332
Star WR 140
Pillars of creation
Webb’s near-infrared image of the Pillars of Creation shows even more detail than the 2014 Hubble image, with lots of stars (especially newborns). Galaxies are not visible in the photo because the gas and dust of the interstellar medium block distant objects in such a dense region.
Webb’s predecessor, Hubble, first photographed the “Pillars of Creation” in 1995, but at the time the technology only detected a fraction of the stars in the region. The photograph was composed of 32 separate images taken by four cameras, including wide-angle and planetary camera #2.
In honor of the 25th anniversary of the launch of Hubble, a new photo of the “Pillars of Creation” was taken – larger and with higher resolution. The image was captured by wide-angle camera #3, installed on the telescope in 2009. The 2014 rework provides more detail, but the visible-light image still left the Pillars relatively opaque and obscured some of the forming stars.
Merger of galaxies
Stars in the Wolf-Landmark-Melott galaxy
Galaxies from the early universe
The two galaxies recently discovered by Webb probably formed 300-400 million years after the Big Bang. They have not yet been verified by spectroscopic measurements, but the most distant one has been previously confirmed by ALMA data, the Atakami Large Millimeter Radio Telescope (LMRA).
“There have been many claims about earlier galaxies, and we’re still trying to figure out which ones might be real. We’re more confident about these two than the others,” said Garth Illingworth, researcher on the Spectroscopic Complete and Public Release IMaging program for Extragalactic Research.
Now, the extraordinary brightness of these early galaxies is forcing astronomers to reconsider their assumptions about the oldest stars. Although very bright galaxies are usually very massive, it is possible that these are not so, but simply have a lot of Population III stars.
Population III stars are still hypothetical, and the idea is that they are among the oldest stars in the universe with a different composition than the ones we know about.
Southern Ring Nebula
Protostar in the “hourglass”
The object, named L1527, is believed to be a class 0 protostar – an early stage of star formation, approximately 100,000 years old. The protostar is now hidden in an hourglass-shaped cloud of dust and gas, and has yet to develop the ability to generate its own energy through nuclear fusion, like the Sun and other stars throughout the universe.