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NASA releases first color photos from James Webb Space Telescope

(WHNT) – NASA’s newest telescope is delivering its first images, giving scientists and enthusiasts alike the furthest glimpses ever – both in distance and time.

Monday’s image from the James Webb Telescope was just a sneak peek; three more images were released Tuesday morning, along with some of the telescope’s first scientific observations.

While released as a tease Monday, an image of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 was re-released with NASA giving more detail on what was in the image dubbed “Webb’s First Deep Field.” The image shows thousands of galaxies – including some of the faintest ever observed by infrared light.

NASA said SMACS 0723 covers a patch of sky roughly the same size as a grain of sand somebody’s holding at arm’s length.

  • Thousands of small galaxies appear across this view. Their colors vary. Some are shades of orange, while others are white. Most appear as fuzzy ovals, but a few have distinct spiral arms. In front of the galaxies are several foreground stars. Most appear blue, and the bright stars have diffraction spikes, forming an eight-pointed star shape. There are also many thin, long, orange arcs that curve around the center of the image. (Photo courtesy NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute)
  • Two views of the same object, the Southern Ring Nebula, are shown side by side. Both feature black backgrounds speckled with tiny bright stars and distant galaxies. Both show the planetary nebula as a misshapen oval that is slightly angled from top left to bottom right. At left, the near-infrared image shows a bright white star with eight long diffraction spikes at the center. A large transparent teal oval surrounds the central star. Several red shells surround the teal oval, extending almost to the edges of the image. The red layers, which are wavy overall, look like they have very thin straight lines piercing through them. At right, the mid-infrared image shows two stars at the center very close to one another. The one at left is red, the one at right is light blue. The blue star has tiny diffraction spikes around it. A large translucent red oval surrounds the central stars. From the red oval, shells extend in a mix of colors. (Photo courtesy NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute)
  • Image of a group of five galaxies that appear close to each other in the sky: two in the middle, one toward the top, one to the upper left, and one toward the bottom. Four of the five appear to be touching. One is somewhat separated. In the image, the galaxies are large relative to the hundreds of much smaller (more distant) galaxies in the background. All five galaxies have bright white cores. Each has a slightly different size, shape, structure, and coloring. Scattered across the image, in front of the galaxies are number of foreground stars with diffraction spikes: bright white points, each with eight bright lines radiating out from the center. (Photo courtesy NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute)
  • The image is divided horizontally by an undulating line between a cloudscape forming a nebula along the bottom portion and a comparatively clear upper portion. Speckled across both portions is a starfield, showing innumerable stars of many sizes. The smallest of these are small, distant, and faint points of light. The largest of these appear larger, closer, brighter, and more fully resolved with 8-point diffraction spikes. The upper portion of the image is blueish, and has wispy translucent cloud-like streaks rising from the nebula below. The orangish cloudy formation in the bottom half varies in density and ranges from translucent to opaque. The stars vary in color, the majority of which, have a blue or orange hue. The cloud-like structure of the nebula contains ridges, peaks, and valleys – an appearance very similar to a mountain range. Three long diffraction spikes from the top right edge of the image suggest the presence of a large star just out of view. (Photo courtesy NASA/Space Telescope Science Institute)

Webb also pointed its camera at a planetary nebula approximately 2,500 light-years from Earth. For scale, one light-year is approximately 5.8 trillion miles. Taking two infrared images, Webb discovered one of the two stars is surrounded by dust – a measurement that previous telescopes were unable to achieve. New instruments aboard Webb will help astronomers better understand specific substances inside nebulae like NGC 3132, informally known as the Southern Ring Nebula.

The third image released came from Stephan’s Quintet, a visual grouping of five galaxies prominently featured in the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The mosaic released by NASA is Webb’s largest image to date – clocking at 150 megapixels and was built from almost 1,000 separate images. To put that image size into perspective, that’s 12 times the resolution of a typical smartphone camera – the second-generation iPhone SE is 12 megapixels. This resolution gives a look at never-before-seen details across the cosmos.

The fourth image came from a star-forming region called NGC 3324 inside the Carina Nebula. While it looks like mountains and valleys, NASA said the Cosmic Cliffs are just the edge of a giant, gaseous cavity inside the region; the tallest peaks are seven light-years high, and have been formed by intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds given off by extremely young, massive, and hot stars inside the region.

NASA also released details on a research mission – the telescope discovered water, along with evidence of clouds and haze, inside the atmosphere of a gas giant (dubbed WASP-96b) orbiting a Sun-like star roughly 1,150 light-years from Earth. The discovery was made thanks to Webb’s ability to detect tiny decreases in the brightness of precise colors of light – and at vast distances.

Launched in December 2021, the $10 million telescope will initially observe alongside its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. Current NASA plans have extended Hubble’s science mission until June 2026, a few months over 30 years after its April 1990 launch.

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