The first images taken by the “James Webb” telescope, which was launched around six months ago, have provided the deepest and most detailed insights into space to date.
After the first image – which, according to NASA, was the “deepest and sharpest infrared view of the universe recorded to date” – was presented on Tuesday night together with US President Joe Biden and his Vice President Kamala Harris in the White House, the US space agency Nasa on Tuesday afternoon four more shots.
“Each image is a new discovery, and each one gives mankind a glimpse of the universe like never before,” said NASA CEO Bill Nelson. The publication of the images marks the official start of scientific work with the largest and most powerful telescope ever launched into space.
The telescope is an “opportunity that comes only once in a lifetime” and will “change our understanding of the universe,” said the head of the European Space Agency (ESA), which is also involved in the project, Josef Aschbacher. “Beyond science, it is also a symbol of international cooperation.”
The five images provide different views and data. Bright white dots can be seen in the center of the image released in the White House. That is the galaxy cluster “SMACS 0723,” explained Ulrich Walter, Professor of Space Technology at the Technical University of Munich, when asked. The cluster takes on the function of a lens, so that behind it, more distant galaxies become visible.
According to Walter, these can be seen in the picture as elongated orange spots arranged in a circle. When the picture was published, Biden spoke of a “historic day”, Harris of an “exciting new capital in the exploration of our universe”. Biden and Harris were “excited like kids” and asked “millions of questions,” said Nasa boss Nelson.
Images from two different infrared cameras show previously unknown details of the Southern Ring Nebula (NGC 3132), which is 2,500 light-years away from us. Such planetary nebulae are composed of gas and dust that eject dying stars. For NGC 3132, the interaction of two stars influences the nebula’s appearance.
The telescope also found clear signs of water on the gas planet Wasp-96 b, which is outside our solar system. There is evidence of clouds and fog in the atmosphere, said NASA.
“James Webb” was launched into space on December 25 aboard an Ariane launch vehicle from the European spaceport in Kourou in French Guiana – after cost explosions and repeated postponements had previously occurred.
The telescope is named after a former NASA boss who led the agency in the space-pivoting 1960s. The space agencies of the USA, Canada and Europe are cooperating on the project.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) took around 30 years to develop and ultimately cost around ten billion dollars (around 8.8 billion euros). It follows the Hubble telescope, which has been in use for more than 30 years. While “Hubble” works in the optical and ultraviolet range, “James Webb” investigates in the near-infrared range.
“James Webb” is to fly around 1.5 million kilometers into space and, among other things, provide new images from the early universe with the help of a 25 square meter mirror. Scientists hope that the recordings will provide insights into the time after the Big Bang around 13.8 billion years ago.
They’re hoping for images of stars older than our solar system and perhaps no longer in existence — and possibly even evidence of a second Earth. The lifespan of “James Webb” is initially set at ten years.
Numerous discoveries can be expected during this time, announced Nasa scientist Jane Rigby. The speed of the telescope is impressive: All five images now published were taken within just one week. “And we will publish discoveries like this every week.” (dpa)