Seven of JWST’s best images from its first year in orbit

JWST was this year’s star (pun intended) in science, wowing the world with the beauty of its images and forming the basis for an astonishing number of abundant scientific papers, published in record time. When looking at some of the highlights, it’s important to remember that it’s only been in orbit for just over a year and has been fully operational for half that time.

Probably the most popular photograph with the public has been the header image for this article, the Carina Nebula. The nebula is a star forming region officially known as NGC 3324. Stars that are just beginning to fuse hydrogen release much of the infrared wavelengths in which JWST operates, and these penetrate also good in nebula dust, allowing us to see much younger stars than ever before. before. The appearance of an escarpment in the walls of the cavity carved out by ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from powerful stars has earned it the nickname Cosmic Cliffs.

The famous Pillars of Creation provide a similar example of gas clouds sculpted by stellar winds and radiation from the Carina Nebula. In this case though, everything is set against a star-strewn backdrop, and the gas looks like an outstretched hand to capture some of them.

The Pillars of Creation are pretty amazing, the stars they seem to be trying to grab add an extra level.  Image credits: NASA, ESA, ASC, STScI;  Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI).

The Pillars of Creation are quite amazing; the stars they seem to be trying to catch add an extra level. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI; Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI), Alyssa Pagan (STScI).

You might think that after four spacecraft have visited Jupiter, and two have spent years exploring it, the JWST wouldn’t have much to add to at least 600 million miles. However, JWST’s infrared operations and the remarkable instruments it carries have allowed us to see the largest planet in the solar system in a (literally) whole new light. Most of the attention has been on what JWST has revealed about the gas giant’s clouds, but the image below shows that it can also give us exceptional views of moons, rings and the auroras of the planet.

Jupiter in the infrared, its auroras, its two inner moons, its faint rings and even the diffraction of the aurorasImage credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team;  image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt.

Jupiter in the infrared, its auroras, its two inner moons, its faint rings and even the diffraction of the auroras. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS team; image processing by Ricardo Hueso (UPV/EHU) and Judy Schmidt

Titan is another world that humanity has seen up close, primarily through the Cassini and Huygens Lander mission. As the only moon in the solar system with a substantial atmosphere, the giant satellite is about to get its own “Dragonfly” spacecraft, but in the meantime JWST has observed a sea and has partnered with the observatory. Keck in Hawai’i to record movements. of clouds.

Titan as seen by JWST's NIRCam (left) and a composite image on the right

Titan as seen by JWST’s NIRCam (left) and a composite image on the right. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, A. Pagan (STScI)

Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte is a dwarf galaxy close enough for JWST to resolve individual stars, a rarity beyond our own galaxy. Although it has a fraction of the stars of the Milky Way, the small galaxy is close enough to provide an unobstructed view to the right when imaged by the JWST, with the now derelict Spitzer Space Telescope image of the same field on the left for contrast.

Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte seen by Spitzer on the left and the JWST on the right

Wolf-Lundmark-Melotte seen by Spitzer on the left and JWST on the right, showing how far infrared astronomy has come. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI and Kristen McQuinn (Rutgers University). Image processing: Alyssa Pagan (STScI)

Wolf-Rayet stars are a class of extremely hot stars – some with surfaces nearly 40 times hotter than those of the Sun. Having lost their outer hydrogen, these stars are now fusing helium or even heavier elements. Wolf-Rayet 140 is a special case, as the star is part of a binary pair. As the two orbit each other, they release dust on an eight-year cycle that resembles tree rings and plays a similar role in revealing the couple’s history. The rings were already known, and part of the reason the pair was chosen as an early JWST target, but the 3D geometry and number of visible shells stunned observers.

A helium-burning Wolf-Rayet star in a binary pair with another star releasing dust on an eight-year cycle revealing the system's history.  Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, JPL-Caltech

A helium-burning Wolf-Rayet star in a binary pair with another star releasing dust on an eight-year cycle, revealing the system’s history. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, JPL-Caltech

Sometimes there’s a correlation between the images being a feast for the eyes and a boon for scientists, but that’s not always the case. The first image the space telescope has taken of a planet beyond our solar system has been described by Dr Sasha Hinkley of the University of Exeter as a “transformative moment, not just for Webb but also for the astronomy in general. However, it’s not exactly exciting to watch.

For the other extreme, it’s hard to get past Webb’s First Deep Field. There’s a reason President Biden chose to make this the image he first released on July 11, a day before the other four introductory images.

The JWST deep field includes the most distant galaxies we have ever seen, magnified by a powerful gravitational lens.  Some of the galaxies are so distant that they defy standard cosmology.  Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

The JWST deep field includes the most distant galaxies we have ever seen, magnified by a powerful gravitational lens. Some of the galaxies are so distant that they defy standard cosmology. Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

The field includes the most distant galaxies ever seen, aided by the gravitational lens provided by foreground galaxies, and as such has launched a flood of articles. However, it is also something that anyone, regardless of their level of astronomical knowledge, can gaze at for hours, always finding something new.

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