The James Webb Space Telescope is peering into some of the most distant galaxies in the universe. Now it is considered in our.
Astronomers have turned Webb – the most powerful observatory in space – into the core of the Milky Way, capturing extreme processes and vigorous star formation in unprecedented detail. Unlike the Hubble telescope, which sees mostly visible light, the Webb sees a type of light called infrared. These longer wavelengths penetrate dense clouds of cosmic gas, providing never-before-seen cosmic images.
“There’s never been infrared data for this region with the level of resolution and sensitivity that we’re getting with Webb, so we’re seeing a lot of features here for the first time,” Samuel Crowe, a graduate student at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville who led the imaging project , said in a statement. “The web reveals an incredible amount of detail, allowing us to study star formation in this kind of environment in a way that wasn’t possible before.”
You have to see the eerie sight of the Cancer Nebula from the Webb Telescope
This galactic region is named Sagittarius C (Sgr C), a region that is home to intense star formation and is located about 25,000 light-years beyond Earth, which is relatively close in cosmic terms. For reference, one light year equals 5.88 trillion miles. Here’s what you see in the image taken by the Webb Telescope’s NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera) instrument (second image labeled).
– Half a million stars: “Approximately 500,000 stars shine in this image of the Sagittarius C (Sgr C) region, along with some as-yet-unidentified features,” NASA explained.
– Cluster of protostars: In the center left is a bright pink amorphous shape. It is a group of protostars that are growing stars. “At the heart of this young cluster is a previously known massive protostar exceeding 30 times the mass of our Sun,” the space agency notes. “The cloud from which the protostars emerge is so dense that light from the stars behind it cannot reach Webb, making it appear less crowded when it is actually one of the most densely packed areas of the image.”
– Vast Chaotic Gas Region: The expansive region (about 25 light-years across) colored in cyan is a type of hydrogen gas “containing needle-like structures that do not have the same orientation,” NASA said. A future research question is to investigate what caused this huge gaseous cloud to form.
A star-filled region of space near the core of the Milky Way galaxy.
Courtesy: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / Samuel Crowe (UVA)
Highlighted portions of the Webb Telescope view of the Sagittarius C region of the Milky Way.
Courtesy: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / Samuel Crowe (UVA)
An important feature of the core of the Milky Way galaxy is not represented here. At the center of most galaxies lies a supermassive black hole (an object so dense and gravitationally powerful that even light cannot escape its grip), and at the heart of the Milky Way lies Sagittarius A*. There is the mass of some 4 million sunsalthough black holes can be much, much more massive.
The powerful capabilities of the Webb Telescope
The Webb Telescope – a science collaboration between NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency – is designed to peer into the deepest space and reveal new insights into the early universe. But it also looks at intriguing planets in our galaxy, along with planets and moons in our solar system.
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Here’s how the Web has achieved unparalleled success and will likely continue to do so for decades to come:
– Giant Mirror: Webb’s mirror, which captures light, is more than 21 feet in diameter. That’s over two and a half times the size of the Hubble Space Telescope’s mirror. Capturing more light allows Webb to see more distant, ancient objects. As described above, the telescope stares at 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 first stars and galaxies that ever formed,” Jean Creighton, astronomer and director of the Manfred Olsen Planetarium at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, told Mashable in 2021.
– Infrared view: Unlike Hubble, which largely sees light that is visible to us, Webb is primarily an infrared telescope, meaning it sees 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 more efficiently pass through cosmic clouds; light does not collide as often and is not scattered by these tightly packed particles. After all, Webb’s infrared vision can penetrate where Hubble can’t.
“It lifts the veil,” Creighton said.
– Peeking into distant exoplanets: The Webb Telescope carries specialized equipment called spectrographs which will revolutionize our understanding of these distant worlds. The instruments can decipher what molecules (such as water, carbon dioxide and methane) exist in the atmospheres of distant exoplanets – whether they are gas giants or smaller rocky worlds. Webb will look at exoplanets in the Milky Way galaxy. Who knows what we’ll find?
“We might learn things we never thought about,” Mercedes Lopez-Morales, an exoplanet researcher and astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told Mashable in 2021.
Astronomers have already successfully detected intriguing chemical reactions on a planet 700 light-years away, and as described above, the observatory has begun looking at one of the most anticipated places in space: the rocky Earth-sized planets of the TRAPPIST solar system.
An artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope orbiting the sun 1 million miles from Earth.
Credit: NASA GSFC / CIL / Adriana Manrique Gutierrez