The James Webb Space Telescope, a device larger and more powerful that the Hubble Space Telescope, is celebrating one year of capturing stunning images and using advanced sensors to unravel some of the mysteries of the universe. To mark the occasion, NASA released a new image that shows stars being formed in a region of space that’s 390 million light-years away from Earth.
The image shows the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex. While the complex is very far away, it is the nearest cloud of star-forming gases to Earth.
“Webb’s image of Rho Ophiuchi allows us to witness a very brief period in the stellar lifecycle with new clarity. Our own Sun experienced a phase like this, long ago, and now we have the technology to see the beginning of another star’s story,” Klaus Pontoppidan, who served as Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, said in a news release. Pontoppidan worked with the Webb team from before the telescope launched through its first year of operation, but has since taken a job at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
What the new image shows
The image shows a region in space that holds about 50 young stars, all of which are about the size of our sun or smaller. The darkest area of the image is the densest, where stars are still forming. The red in the image shows gigantic jets of hydrogen, which occur when a young star first bursts through the cosmic dust it is formed out of, “like a newborn first stretching her arms out into the world,” according to the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The lower part of the image shows a star that is “significantly more massive than the Sun” that has “carved out a cave of glowing dust.”
Some stars in the image have shadows that indicate they’re forming protoplanetary disks — the precursors to solar systems like our own.
What Webb has accomplished
In one year of delivering science, the Webb telescope has contributed to discoveries across the universe and within our own solar system. And that’s in addition to the breathtaking images it’s produced.
The telescope has offered insight into why we’re even able to see stars from Earth, instead of looking up and seeing a murky sky filled with space dust. It’s also shown images of rings around a nearby star, which could indicate there is a planetary system there. And by comparing the composition of the gas giants in our own solar system with images of galaxies far beyond, Webb is able to build clues to help us understand how our own solar system developed, and how Earth become an ideal place for life.
“In just one year, the James Webb Space Telescope has transformed humanity’s view of the cosmos, peering into dust clouds and seeing light from faraway corners of the universe for the very first time. Every new image is a new discovery, empowering scientists around the globe to ask and answer questions they once could never dream of,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
According to the Space Telescope Science Institute, Webb’s instruments have confirmed the distance of some of the farthest galaxies ever observed; discovered early, distant supermassive black holes; and identified the composition of atmospheres on far away planets.
Data from Webb has resulted in “hundreds of scientific papers answering longstanding questions and raising new ones to address with Webb,” the organization said.