- author, Jonathan Amos
- Role, Science correspondent, BBC
Happy scientific birthday to the James Webb Telescope.
Exactly one year ago, we saw the first images of the massive observatory that was put into orbit a few months ago.
And to celebrate it, On Wednesday, the US space agency NASA released a stunning image One of the most photographed regions of the sky.
It is the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, The closest star-forming region to our own cosmos, 400 light-years away.
Amateur and professional stargazers have their eye on Rho Ophiuchi, which can be seen next to the plane of the Milky Way.
What the web shows us is just a small part of this vast and dense region of gases and dust.
what do you see
The image captures half a light-year, about 4 trillion kilometers.
The image’s focus is on the white nebula at left of center, where a relatively young – if a few million years old – star called S1 can be seen illuminating everything around it.
At the bottom is what appears to be a reddish stripe that runs across the entire image. This is the stream of leftover material from a protostar called VLA1623.
Very young stars, only thousands of years old, attract clouds of hydrogen and dust as they grow.. But the dynamics of this mean that some of this material will be ejected and smashed into the environment around it, causing it to glow.
VLA1623 is one such newborn star. It is buried deep in the stream and is not visible to the eyes of the infrared web. We know they exist because we have telescopes sensitive to radio waves that have seen them.
They have also detected two or three other similar protostars in the surrounding areas that are likely contributing to the kinks in the outflow.
When you realize what’s going on in the image around VL1623, you can see other similar patterns in the James Webb image. A large number of them shows how productive this region of space is.
The James Webb Telescope is a joint project of NASA and the Canadian and European space agencies.
It was launched on December 15, 2021, but it took engineers six months to build the observatory and test its systems.
It was July 12, 2022 when we saw the first color images.
The main goal of the web is Identifying the first stars that shone in our universe more than 13.5 billion years agoand it has already shown that stars began to coalesce into galaxies much earlier and are maturing much faster than previously thought possible.
It also has other goals: The first is to give us details of how stars form and how they form planets. That’s why Rho Ophiuchi is such an exciting target for the most powerful observatory in space.
“There’s a lot going on in this fantastic image, with young stars emitting vibrant colors from the clouds of gas and dust from which they were born,” says Professor Mark McCaughrean, advisor to the European Agency for Science and Exploration.
“Much of the red emission comes from jets of molecular gas streaming at high speeds from a protostar, VLA1623, a star so young that some of the cave paintings are older,” the astronomer told the BBC.
To underline what a wonder Webb is, the image below the Rho Ophiuchi complex was taken by NASA’s now-retired Spitzer telescope. Spitzer was sensitive to infrared radiation, just like Webb.
It was very complex, but with a main mirror only 85 cm in diameter, we could never achieve the level of detail we now have with Webb’s 20-foot main mirror.
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