Nasa on Tuesday unveiled all the first images of the most powerful space telescope ever designed, James Webb, breathtaking images of galaxies and nebulae marking the start of scientific operations that astronomers around the world have been waiting for for years.
“Every picture is a new discovery”, NASA chief Bill Nelson said at the opening of the Goddard Space Center near Washington, where a crowd of American and European space agents and scientists were gathered for the event. Each offers “for humanity a view of the universe that we have never seen before.”
The contents of this real surprise bag had so far been kept carefully secret to create excitement.
The Carina trains
The Carina Nebula, located about 7,600 light-years away, illustrates star formation. The snapshot shows hundreds of those never seen before, but also galaxies in the background and structures that we do not even know what is yet.
A dying star
Perhaps the most impressive for their details and their magnificent contrasts of blue and orange: the images of two mists, giant clouds of gas and dust.
The southern nebula is a so-called planetary nebula (although it has nothing to do with planets): it is a huge gas cloud that surrounds a dying star.
– Stephans Quintet
Another target revealed: Stephan’s quintet, a cluster of galaxies. Five are visible in total in this spectacular image, four of which interact with each other in a veritable gravitational dance. Two merge.
The last cosmic object, whose observation was announced on Tuesday, is an exoplanet, that is, a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun, one of James Webb’s main lines.
It was not actually photographed, but analyzed by spectroscopy, a technique used to determine the chemical composition of a distant object. In this case WASP-96 b, a giant planet consisting mainly of gas.
Analysis of light passing through its atmosphere as it passes in front of its star has found the presence of water there, NASA said. James Webb’s predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, has previously discovered water in the atmosphere of exoplanets, but James Webb’s observation is much more detailed.
On Monday, a first image taken by the telescope illustrating the distant times of the cosmos was unveiled in the presence of US President Joe Biden, who greeted for a moment “historic”.
The shot, which abounds in detail, shows galaxies formed shortly after the Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago.
One of James Webb’s masterpieces, a $ 10 billion engineering jewel and the most powerful space telescope ever designed, is actually the exploration of the very young universe. This first demonstration was intended to provide an overview of its capabilities in this area.
James Webb had been sent into space about six months ago, Christmas Day, from French Guiana by an Ariane 5 rocket. In project since the 1990s, it is stationed 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.