The James Webb Space Telescope peers into some of the most distant galaxies in the universe. Now we have looked at ours.
Astronomers have transformed Webb – the most powerful observatory in space – into part of the Milky Way’s core, capturing extreme events and vigorous star formation in unprecedented detail. Unlike the Hubble telescope, which largely observes visible light, Webb observes a type of light called infrared. These longer wavelengths penetrate thick clouds of cosmic gas, providing never-before-seen cosmic images.
“There has never been infrared data on this region with the level of resolution and sensitivity that we are getting with Webb, so we are seeing many features here for the first time,” said undergraduate student Samuel Crowe. at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. led the imaging project, said in a statement. “Webb reveals an incredible amount of detail, allowing us to study star formation in this type of environment in a way that was not possible before.”
You must see the Webb telescope’s strange view of the Crab Nebula
This galactic zone is nicknamed Sagittarius C (Sgr C), a region of intense star formation located some 25,000 light years beyond Earth, which is relatively close in cosmic terms. For reference, one light year is 5.88 trillion miles. Here’s what you see in the image captured by the Webb Telescope’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument (the second image is labeled).
– Half a million stars: “An estimated 500,000 stars shine in this image of the Sagittarius C region (Sgr C), as well as some as yet unidentified features,” NASA explained.
– Protostar clusters: In the center left is a bright pink amorphous shape. This is a group of protostars, which are growing stars. “At the heart of this young cluster is a previously known massive protostar, the mass of which is more than 30 times that of our Sun,” noted the space agency. “The cloud from which the protostars emerge is so dense that starlight behind it cannot reach Webb, making it less crowded when in fact it is one of the most densely populated areas of the image.”
– Vast region of chaotic gas: The large region (about 25 light years across) colored cyan is a type of hydrogen gas “containing needle-like structures that have no uniform orientation,” NASA said. A future research question is to study the causes of the formation of this vast gas cloud.
A star-filled region of space near the heart of the Milky Way.
Credit: NASA/ESA/ASC/STScI/Samuel Crowe (UVA)
Labeled parts of the Webb telescope view of the Sagittarius C region of the Milky Way.
Credit: NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI/Samuel Crowe (UVA)
An important feature of the Milky Way core is not shown here. At the center of most galaxies is a supermassive black hole (an object so dense and gravitationally powerful that not even light can escape its grip), and at the heart of the Milky Way is Sagittarius A* . He has the mass of some 4 million sunsalthough black holes can be much more massive.
The powerful capabilities of the Webb telescope
The Webb Telescope – a scientific collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency – is designed to peer into the deepest cosmos and reveal new information about the early universe. But it’s also about observing the intriguing planets in our galaxy, as well as the planets and moons in our solar system.
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Here’s how Webb achieves unprecedented feats, and will likely do so for decades:
– Giant mirror: Webb’s light-catching mirror measures more than 21 feet in diameter. This is more than two and a half times larger than the mirror of the Hubble Space Telescope. Capturing more light allows Webb to see older and more distant objects. As described above, the telescope observes stars and galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago, just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang.
“We’re going to see the very first stars and galaxies ever formed,” Jean Creighton, astronomer and director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, told Mashable in 2021.
– Infrared view: Unlike Hubble, which largely observes light visible to us, Webb is primarily an infrared telescope, meaning it observes light in the infrared spectrum. This allows us to see much more of the universe. Infrared has longer wavelengths than visible light, so light waves glide through cosmic clouds more efficiently; light does not collide as often and is not scattered by these densely packed particles. Ultimately, Webb’s infrared vision can penetrate places Hubble cannot.
“This lifts the veil,” Creighton said.
– Observe distant exoplanets: The Webb telescope carries specialized equipment called spectrographs which will revolutionize our understanding of these distant worlds. The instruments can decipher which molecules (such as water, carbon dioxide and methane) exist in the atmospheres of distant exoplanets, whether gas giants or smaller rocky worlds. Webb will examine exoplanets in the Milky Way. Who knows what we will find?
“We might learn things we never thought about,” Mercedes López-Morales, an exoplanet researcher and astrophysicist at the Harvard and Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told Mashable in 2021.
Astronomers have already discovered intriguing chemical reactions on a planet 700 light years away, and as described above, the observatory has begun studying one of the most anticipated places in the cosmos: rocky planets the size of the Earth of the TRAPPIST solar system. system.
Artist’s impression of the James Webb Space Telescope orbiting the sun 1 million kilometers from Earth.
Credit: NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez