NASA reveals the Webb Telescope’s first cosmic targets – Science-Environment News – Report by AFR

NASA said Friday the first cosmic images from the James Webb Space Telescope will include unprecedented views of distant galaxies, bright nebulae and a distant giant gaseous planet.

The US, European and Canadian space agencies are gearing up for a big July 12 reveal of early observations from the $10 billion Hubble observatory, which will provide new insights into the origins of the universe.

“I’m really looking forward to not having to keep these secrets anymore, it will be a huge relief,” Klaus Pontoppidan, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STSI), which Webb oversees, told AFP last week.

An international committee decided that the first wave of full-color scientific images would include the Carina Nebula, a giant cloud of dust and gas 7,600 light-years away, and the Southern Ring Nebula, which surrounds a dying star 2,000 light-years away.

The Carina Nebula is famous for its towering pillars, which include “Mystic Mountain,” a three-light-year-high cosmic pinnacle captured in an iconic Hubble image.

Webb has also performed spectroscopy — an analysis of light that provides detailed information — on a distant gas giant called WASP-96 b, discovered in 2014.

WASP-96 b is nearly 1,150 light-years from Earth, about half the mass of Jupiter, and orbits its star in just 3.4 days.

Next comes Stephan’s Quintet, a compact galaxy 290 million light-years away. Four of the five galaxies within the quintet are “locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters,” NASA said.

Finally, and perhaps most enticing of all, Webb captured an image of foreground galaxy clusters called SMACS 0723 as a kind of cosmic magnifying glass for the extremely distant and faint galaxies beyond.

Known as “gravitational lensing,” this uses the mass of foreground galaxies to bend light from objects behind them, much like glasses.

Dan Coe, an astronomer at STSI, told AFP on Friday that the telescope had already hit scientific ground with its first images.

“When I first saw the images…from this deep field of this galaxy cluster lens, I looked at the images and suddenly I learned three things about the universe that I didn’t know before,” he said.

“It totally blew my mind.”

Webb’s infrared capabilities allow it to look deeper into the time of the Big Bang, which took place 13.8 billion years ago, than any instrument before it.

As the universe expands, the light from the earliest stars shifts from the ultraviolet and visible wavelengths where it was emitted to longer infrared wavelengths — which Webb is able to capture with unprecedented resolution.

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