One such observation was a detailed study of the atmosphere of a gas giant planet 1,000 light-years from Earth, called WASP-96 b. By observing the fall of light as the planet passed in front of its host star, JWST was able to probe the atmosphere of this world, a technique he will use to study many more planets in the future.
“You’re seeing shocks and movements that indicate the presence of water vapor in the atmosphere,” said Knicole Columbus, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and assistant scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope Project for the Science of exoplanets, at a NASA event that revealed the observations.
“These are probably the most difficult observations JWST will make,” says Don Pollacco, an astronomer at the University of Warwick in the UK. JWST is expected to have an unmatched ability to look for methane and other potential signs of life in atmospheres of planets of a size similar to ours.
JWST’s vision of a dying star launching its outer layers, a so-called planetary nebula known as the Southern Ring Nebula about 2,500 light-years from Earth, has also been presented today. The view is much more detailed than an image taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1998 and reveals for the first time the two stars that are known to be in the heart of the nebula.
Another image (shown at the top of this story) reveals an exquisite view of the Stephan Quintet, a group of five galaxies about 300 million light-years from Earth. Four of these galaxies are interacting, transferring gas and dust between them. JWST’s view of infrared galaxies shows how never before have these interactions been driving star formation within galaxies. The power of JWST optics is so great that even individual stars can be seen within galaxies. “It’s remarkable,” said Mark McCaughrean, senior adviser on science and exploration at the European Space Agency. “We are ready to convert this telescope to 11.”
The final image offered was a new look at the Carina Nebula, a region of active star formation nearly 8,000 light-years from Earth. The magnificent view presented by JWST reveals hundreds of new stars never seen before, and even structures in the dust and gas of the nebula that cannot yet be explained, according to Amber Straughn, NASA Goddard astrophysicist and assistant scientist. JWST project.
Thanks to JWST, “we can see a lot more detail,” Straughn says. “It really reveals what’s going on here.”
These images are just a tempting snippet of what’s to come from JWST. The telescope has now begun its first year of scheduled scientific observations. Countless most impressive views and large amounts of invaluable data are planned for us.
“It’s a new window into the history of our universe,” President Biden said yesterday. “We’re getting a glimpse of the first light shining through that window.”