Now it’s time to find out what the James Webb Space Telescope has been up to lately.
The tennis court-sized infrared observatory is imaging some of the most famous objects in the night sky after celebrating its first year in space this summer.
Captured in the near and mid-infrared for the first time by the observatory’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) instruments, a famous supernova remnant, a planetary nebula and a giant galaxy are showing new details .
Here are three great images – and what they show:
1. Supernova 1987a
All massive stars end their lives as a supernova, exploding and expelling layers of gas and dust to leave a beautiful remnant in the night sky. Scientists can see these remnants in our own galaxy, but the last explosion was observed in February 1987. The closest since then was SN 1987A (Supernova 1987A), which exploded in the Large Magellanic Cloud 168,000 light-years away. Dwarf galaxy that orbits the Milky Way.
This new image, above from Webb’s NIRCam, shows a keyhole shape of ejected material as well as nebulous crescent shapes around it that have never been seen before. Around it are hotspots of material in a ring that are believed to predate the actual eruption, with two more rings ahead of it.
2. ring nebula
This image above from MIRI shows one of the best-known planetary nebulae in the night sky. Found close to the bright star Vega – which is currently flying across the northern hemisphere summer sky – this new image shows for the first time a faint halo of material around the bright ring.
What’s inside suggests that the dying star that is forming the Ring Nebula (also known as M57) has a companion star whose presence is responsible for the beautiful sculpture of ejecting gas and dust Can It’s also worth checking out the NIRCam image of JWST.
3. Whirlpool Galaxy
Also taken by MIRI, this is the Whirlpool Galaxy above, named for the swirling spiral arms that surround its bright core. Cataloged as M57, it is near the tail end of the Big Dipper that is a popular target for small backyard telescopes.
While this MIRI image shows a web-like structure with incredible depth, the NIRCam image shows ionized gas produced by stars forming in clusters. M57 is 27 million light-years away from Earth in the constellation Canes Venatici. There is also a composite image of the two images which you will be thrilled to see.
I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.