NASA, the American space agency, released this Tuesday (12) the first images recorded by the James Webb Space Telescope. The equipment, which works with infrared technology, will allow humanity to see the first objects that formed in the universe, 13.8 billion years ago. A preview of the images was released on Monday (11), in a live broadcast that included the participation of the President of the United States, Joe Biden. The photo shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, located 4.2 billion light-years away from Earth.
On Tuesday morning, the first image released by the space agency was of an exoplanet (a planet located outside the Solar System) cataloged as WASP-96b. It is considered a gas giant, that is, a giant planet composed mainly of hydrogen and helium. New measurements of the planet taken by Webb show evidence of water vapour, haze and some previously invisible clouds. Over time, measurements like these should help scientists understand the birth of gas giant planets like WASP-96b, and even Saturn and Jupiter, during the formation of star systems.
Following, the next photo shown by NASA was that of the Southern Ring Nebula. According to NASA astronomers, most stars in the universe, including the Sun, will end their lives in nebulae like this one. This cloud of colored gas will eventually expand and disappear into the space between the stars.
In the image in question, Webb’s infrared view shows light emitted by a set of complex carbon molecules that are born from the same process — these same molecules float through space, settling in clouds that give rise to new stars, asteroid planets and any life that may arise. Compared with previous studies carried out by the Hubble Space Telescope, the new photo of the South Ring Nebula shows more of its surroundings: the first material released from the star to scatter. It also reveals bright grains of carbon and a better view of a companion star huddled in the center of the nebula. Astronomers said they were “shocked”.
Another celestial body captured by Webb was Stephan’s Quintet, a set of five galaxies that appear to touch each other. Astronomer Édouard Stephan, from the Observatory of Marseilles, in France, was the first to identify the group, in 1877. The visual juxtaposition is, in part, an illusion. One of the galaxies, NGC 7320, is actually much closer to Earth, about 40 million light-years from the planet, but along the line of sight of the others. The other four galaxies, however, are about 300 million light-years away, part of what astronomers call a compact cluster of galaxies. Scientists are still working to understand how multiple galaxies can get so close together.
“They are locked in a close interaction, a kind of cosmic dance driven by the gravitational pull,” said astronomer Giovanna Giardino of Esa, the European space agency.
The Webb image provides a clearer view of the tails and loops of gas and stars in the four distant galaxies, as well as bright X-ray emissions from diffuse hot gas. According to Giovanna, “this really shows the kind of interaction that drives the evolution of galaxies.”
One of the galaxies includes a particularly bright spot of material becoming superhot as it falls into a gigantic black hole at the center of the galaxy. The luminosity of gases is 40 billion times that of our sun.
The last image released by NASA this Tuesday, for now, was the Carina nebula. It is a turbulent cloud of gas and dust located about 7,600 light-years from Earth. The nebula is home to some of the most luminous and potentially explosive stars in the galaxy. Among them, Eta Carinae stands out, a double star system whose primary member has a mass of 200 suns. Over the years, the primary star has emitted periodic eruptions as it aged and quivered. At least 20 solar masses of gas and dust were spewed into the nebula. This obscured Eta Carinae itself, as well as the other stars that “inhabit” the interstellar cloud.
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