Dear Readers, I watched the launch of the James Webb telescope a few months ago with great trepidation. This is the most ambitious project for decades – the telescope is orbiting the sun at a point over a million miles away from the earth, and is equipped with 18 hexagonal gold mirrors and a sunshield to prevent it from being damaged by the sun. After launch, there was a six month wait while the mirrors were unfurled and the telescope was calibrated. Now, it is looking into a part of space never examined before, which is thought to be where the the very first stars and galaxies formed, over 13 billion years ago.
The James Webb looks for light in the infrared and near infrared spectrums – visible and ultraviolet light have been what’s known as ‘redshifted’ as the universe expanded.
So, if that’s not mindblowing enough, bearing in mind that the images that the telescope is capturing are historical – the stars and galaxies in the photos may have already ceased to exist, as it takes such a long time for the light to arrive at the telescope.
All images from Nasa here.
So, first up is a photo of the Carina Nebula (top) – it might look like a series of crags but the clear, starry area in the middle is where the intense ultraviolet radiation and solar winds from the birth of new stars has carved out an area in the middle of the nebula.
Next is Stephan’s Quintet, which is apparently featured in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ – enlighten me, Readers, as I’ve missed this holiday classic. You can see the tails being pulled from some of the five galaxies due to the gravitational pull of the others, and there are also shock waves in the middle where the galaxies are crashing into one another.
The images are put together from many, many shots – this one was created from almost 1000 separate ‘photos’.
Next, the Southern Ring Nebula. The star in the centre is expelling clouds of dust and gas and it dies.
And finally, this is the image unveiled by President Joe Biden on Tuesday. This is the deepest and sharpest image of the known universe to date. This photo covers an area of the sky about the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground, and just look at the detail. It’s a composite made from photos taken by different cameras, and it took 12 hours to put the image together (as compared to several weeks for the poor old Hubble telescope). The image shows the galaxies as they looked 4.6 billion years ago. If you hear a strange sound, it’s just my brain melting…
What a truly spectacular set of images these are. We will find out so much, not just about deep space but also about things like exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars) – the telescope can analyse the atmosphere of these planets, and so determine what kind of life could possibly exist on them. I look forward to the discoveries that this truly ground (space?) breaking innovation will provide.