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Thursday, July 18, 2024

The Universe is Astounding

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The dawn of a new era in astronomy has begun as the world gets its first look at the full capabilities of the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. The first full-colour image was taken with James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and was revealed by NASA on July 11, 2022.

A flurry of bright white galaxies is stirring up this scene captured in high resolution by JWST. Known as galaxy-cluster SMACS 0723, this group of galaxy bending and warping the light from more distant galaxies behind them, stretching and repeating their appearances. This deep-field image, covers a tiny area of sky visible from the Southern-Hemisphere, depicting SMACS 0723 cluster that is 4.6 billion light-years from Earth in the constellation of Volans. 

Our understanding of what constitutes our universe and how it came about is still evolving, just as the universe itself is evolving.

Light from these galaxies took billions of years to reach us. We are looking back in time to within a billion years after the big bang when viewing the youngest galaxies in this field. The light was stretched by the expansion of the universe to infrared-wavelengths that Webb was designed to observe.

The combined mass of this galaxy-cluster acts as a gravitational lens, magnifying much more distant galaxies behind it. Webb’s NIRCam has brought those distant galaxies into sharp focus; they have tiny, faint structures that have never been seen before, including star-clusters and diffuse features.

Webb’s first observations tell the story of the hidden Universe through every phase of cosmic history from neighboring exoplanets to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe, to everything in between.

When we go through all this – the only firm conclusion we can draw is this that “WE DONT YET KNOW ANYTHING COMPLETELY” everything is Work In Progress!

The image exposes numerous galaxies and astronomical objects in just a tiny fraction of the surrounding universe. NASA says, “This Webb’s image is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length by someone on the ground and reveals thousands of galaxies in a tiny sliver of vast the universe.” But still described a whole lot that we don’t know. It is expected to provide answers to all those questions which we don’t even know how to frame yet.

Deep-field, taken by Webb’s NIRCam, is a composite made from images at different wavelengths, totaling an exposure of 12.5 hours and achieving depths at infrared wavelengths beyond the Hubble Space Telescope’s deepest fields, which took weeks.

Carrying 4-instruments NIRCam, NIRSpec, NIRISS and MIRI, JWST has multiple mode of operations, primary mirror of 6.5 meter in diameter and has an operational life up-to 10 years including 5.5 years of primary mission. And in all this time period it would continue to deliver the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe.

It would be able to see what the universe looked like around a quarter of a billion years (possibly back to 100 million years) after the Big Bang, when the first stars and galaxies formed. That may rework our understanding of how the universe evolved from the earliest galaxies to today.

Launched on 25th December 2021 on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. Webb is intended to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) as NASA’s flagship mission in astrophysics, which may ultimately reshape our understanding of how galaxies changed and evolved over billions of years. JWST opens a new era of discovery for the scientific community and serves as an inspiration to space-exploration enthusiasts everywhere. 

There were some other images as well that were released later that day. 

“Cosmic Cliffs” of the Carina Nebula

The "Cosmic Cliffs" of the Carina Nebula  - Universe
The “Cosmic Cliffs” of the Carina Nebula

The “Cosmic Cliffs” of the Carina Nebula are seen in an image divided horizontally by an undulating line between a cloudscape forming a nebula along the bottom portion and a comparatively clear upper portion, showcasing Webb’s camera capabilities to peer through the cosmos to the dawn of the universe.

These so-called cliffs some towering about 7 light-years high are speckled with glittering, young stars imaged in infrared light. This stellar nursery with glistening individual baby stars, whose ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds shape undulating line of dust and gas.

Stephan Quintet Galaxy Group

the Stephan Quintet galaxy group - universe
The Stephan Quintet galaxy group

With its powerful, infrared vision and extremely high resolution, Webb shows never-before-seen details in the Stephan Quintet galaxy group, a visual grouping of five galaxies. 

This single image contains over 150 million pixels & is constructed from almost 1000 separate image files.

Sparkling clusters of millions of young stars and starburst regions of fresh star birth grace the image. Sweeping tails of gas, dust and stars are being pulled from several of the galaxies due to gravitational interactions.

Southern Ring Planetary Nebula 

Southern Ring Planetary Nebula 
Southern Ring Planetary Nebula

This is the Southern Ring Planetary Nebula – NGC 3132 situated 2500 light-years from Earth. The central dying star send out rings of gas and dust for thousands of years in all direction.

Dying star in a center of a planetary nebula.

This observation of a planetary nebula from the JWST NIRCam instrument uncover subtle properties and exceptional structure.

The common theme running through all the amazing JWST images is how dynamic the universe is! The images of galaxies and stars and nebulae are snapshots in time of an ever-changing and evolving cosmos.


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