The first images from the James Webb Telescope usher in a new era …

Nasa on Tuesday unveiled all the first images of the most powerful space telescope ever designed, James Webb, breathtaking color images marking the start of scientific operations of this observatory that astronomers around the world have been waiting for years.

After a first photograph was published the day before, four new observations were revealed one by one during an hour-long live broadcast: magnificent images of stellar nebulae illustrating the life cycle of stars, analysis of the atmosphere on an exoplanet, and the snapshot of colliding galaxies.

“Every image is a new discovery,” said NASA chief Bill Nelson of the Goddard Space Center near Washington, where a crowd of officials from US and European space agencies, as well as scientists, gathered for the ‘event’. Each offers “humanity a view of the universe that we have never seen before”.

These shots had hitherto been carefully kept secret. The goal: both to impress the public with their beauty, but also to demonstrate to the scientific community the full power of instruments on board.

“This is just the beginning,” said Amber Straughn, an astrophysicist at NASA. “In the coming weeks and months, scientists will take the time to dive into all of this data.”

Perhaps the most impressive images are those – due to their details and their magnificent contrasts of blue and orange – of two nebulae, giant clouds of gas and dust, located in the Milky Way, our galaxy.

The Carina Nebula, about 7,600 light-years away, is a star nursery. The snapshot shows hundreds of those never seen before, but also galaxies in the background and structures not yet seen.

The southern nebula, 2,000 light-years away, is a huge gas cloud that surrounds a dying star. For the first time, another star at the end of his life clearly appears there.

James Webb operates in infrared, a wavelength imperceptible to human eyes, colors were “translated” into visible colors.

– “Exceptional” –

Another target revealed: Stephans Quintet, a compact group of galaxies. Five are visible in total in this spectacular image, four of which interact in a veritable gravitational dance. Two merge.

The image also contains a black hole, which cannot be seen by itself, but which can be guessed by the material being sucked around it.

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.

Strictly speaking, it has not been 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. The mythical Hubble Space Telescope had previously detected water in the atmosphere of exoplanets, but James Webb’s observation is much finer.

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 paid tribute to a “historic” moment.

The shot, which abounds in detail, shows galaxies formed shortly after the Big Bang more than 13 billion years ago.

Everywhere the experts said they were blown backwards over the quality of the shots.

“That it works is normal, but also good, it’s unique,” responded Pierre-Olivier Lagage, in charge of one of the four scientific instruments on board. “It’s such a leap forward that we’re going to get surprises,” he predicted.

– International cooperation –

“The pictures are amazing,” also pleased cosmologist John Mather, the Nobel Prize in Physics and one of the mission’s scientific fathers. “And they’re full of discoveries and science.”

One of James Webb’s main tasks, a jewel of engineering worth $ 10 billion, is the exploration of the very young universe.

James Webb was 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, with enough fuel to run for 20 years.

Around 20,000 people have worked on the realization around the world, which has created a huge international collaboration.

Researchers around the world have reserved observation time with James Webb, whose program for its first year of operation has already been carefully determined by a selection of specialists and published.

The universe “has always been there,” said Jane Rigby of the Goddard Space Center. “We just had to build a telescope to see what’s there.”

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