The First Images from NASA's Webb Telescope Reveal New Scenes of Galaxies, Stars, and More Planetary Phenomena
The highly anticipated James Webb telescope launched in December 2021, and we're just now seeing the first full color images captured by the infrared space observatory. With out-of-this-world photos of far off galaxies and cosmic phenomena, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has given us a true glimpse into the intricacies and mysteries of our universe.
One of the first photos released by NASA, above, was an incredible view of the Carina Nebula—a complex area of bright and dark nebulosity in the constellation Carina, which is located roughly 7,600 light-years away. "Called the Cosmic Cliffs, Webb's seemingly three-dimensional picture looks like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening. In reality, it is the edge of the giant, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, and the tallest "peaks" in this image are about 7 light-years high," NASA writes in a statement.
The picture reveals emerging stellar nurseries and individual stars that were previously hidden and that can't be seen in visible-light pictures. "Because of Webb's sensitivity to infrared light, it can peer through cosmic dust to see these objects," NASA writes. Observations made based on the photo of Carina Nebula will shed light on the process of star formation.
Another remarkable photo released by the space station is an image of the Southern Ring, which is a planetary nebula—an expanding, glowing shell of gas ejected from dying stars. "Webb's powerful infrared view brings this nebula's second star into full view, along with exceptional structures created as the stars shape the gas and dust around them," NASA writes.
The dimmer star at the center of the right-most photo of the Southern Ring has been sending out rings of gas and dust for thousands of years, and the remarkable telescope has revealed, for the first time, that the star is covered in dust. According to NASA, two cameras on the Webb captured the most recent photo of the planetary nebula, which is about 2,500 light-years away.
Last but certainly not least? This enormous scene, above, captured by the James Webb Telescope, which is a visual of Stephan's Quintet, a grouping of five galaxies that—according to the space station—is best known for its reference in the film, It's a Wonderful Life. In the image you can see four out of the five galaxies locked in a gravitational dance. "Webb's new image shows in rare detail how interacting galaxies trigger star formation in each other and how gas in galaxies is being disturbed," NASA writes.
The photo of Stephan's Quintet is the largest image the telescope has captured to date and covers about one-fifth of the moon's diameter. "It contains over 150 million pixels and is constructed from almost 1,000 separate image files," NASA writes. "The information from Webb provides new insights into how galactic interactions may have driven galaxy evolution in the early universe."