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First Webb images reveal the Universe in infrared

on 13 July 2022

On 12 July, the dawn of a new era in astronomy began as the world got its first look at the full capabilities of the NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Space Telescope. The telescope’s first full-colour images and spectroscopic data look at the Universe through every phase of cosmic history – from neighbouring exoplanets to the most distant observable galaxies in the early Universe, to everything in between.

Webb spectra identify galaxies in the very early Universe

SMACS 0723:  Webb has delivered the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant Universe so far – and in only 12.5 hours. This new image is approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length.

2022 07 Webb First images Image A

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Exoplanet WASP-96 b

WASP-96b: Webb’s detailed observation of this hot, puffy planet outside our Solar System reveals the clear signature of water, along with evidence of haze and clouds that previous studies of this planet did not detect.

2022 07 Webb First images Image B

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Southern Ring Nebula

Southern Ring: This planetary nebula, an expanding cloud of gas that surrounds a dying star, is approximately 2,000 light years away. Here, Webb’s powerful infrared eyes bring a second dying star into full view for the first time.

2022 07 Webb First images Image C

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Stephan’s Quintet

Stephan’s Quintet: Thanks to Webb scientists can get a rare look, in unprecedented detail, at how interacting galaxies are triggering star formation in each other and how the gas in these galaxies is being disturbed.

2022 07 Webb First images Image D

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Cosmic cliffs in Carina

Carina Nebula: Webb’s look at the ‘Cosmic Cliffs’ in the Carina Nebula unveils the earliest, rapid phases of star formation that were previously hidden. Looking at this star-forming region in the southern constellation Carina, as well as others like it, Webb can see newly forming stars and study the gas and dust that made them.

2022 07 Webb First images Image E

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The release of Webb’s first images and spectra kicks off the beginning of Webb’s science operations, where astronomers around the world will have their chance to observe anything from objects within our Solar System to the early Universe using Webb’s four instruments.

“These first images and spectra from Webb are a huge celebration of the international collaboration that made this ambitious mission possible,” says Josef Aschbacher, ESA Director General.

The James Webb Space Telescope launched on 25 December 2021, on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana. After completing the most complex and difficult deployment sequence in space, Webb underwent months of commissioning where its mirrors were painstakingly aligned, and its instruments were calibrated to its space environment and prepared for science.

More information about the first Webb images, as well as upcoming observations can be read here.

Main image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI