It was the gift of $10 billion to the world. A machine that would show us our place in the Universe.
The James Webb Space Telescope is launched exactly one year ago, Christmas Day. It had taken three decades to plan, design and build.
Many wondered if this successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope could really live up to the hype.
We had to wait a few months while their epic 6.5m primary mirror was unboxed and focused, and their other systems tested and calibrated.
But, yeah, it was everything they said it would be. The American, European and Canadian space agencies held a party in July to launch the first color images. What you see on this page are some of the images posted later that you may have missed.
The first thing to remember about James Webb is that it is an infrared telescope. He sees the sky in wavelengths of light that are beyond what our eyes can discern.
Astronomers use their different cameras to explore regions of the cosmos, like these great towers of gas and dust. The Pillars were a favorite Hubble target. It would take you several years to travel at the speed of light to get through this entire scene.
They call this scene the Cosmic Cliffs. It is the edge of a gigantic gaseous cavity within another dusty, star-forming nebula, known as Carina.
The cavity has been sculpted by intense ultraviolet radiation and winds from hot, young stars out of frame.
Across this image is a distance of about 15 light-years. One light year is equal to about 9.46 trillion kilometers (5.88 trillion miles).
wagon wheel galaxy
This large galaxy on the right was discovered by the great Swiss astronomer Fritz Zwicky in the 1940s. Its intricate cartwheel structure is the result of a head-on collision with another galaxy. The diameter is about 145,000 light years.
James Webb does not look only at the deep Universe. He also probes objects in our own solar system. This jewel is the eighth planet from the Sun: Neptune, seen with its rings. The little white dots around it are moons, just like the big “pointed star” above. That’s Triton, Neptune’s largest satellite. The spikes are an artifact of the way James Webb’s mirror system is built.
Read more: Ringed Neptune captured by the James Webb Telescope
Orion is one of the best known regions of the sky. It is a star-forming region, or nebula, about 1,350 light-years from Earth. Here, Webb depicts a feature called Orion’s Bar, which is a wall of dense gas and dust.
In one of the great space stories of the year, NASA directed a spacecraft against an asteroid, called Dimorphos, to see if it was possible to deflect the path of the 160m-wide rock. It was a test of a strategy to defend Earth from threatening asteroids. James Webb caught the rain of 1,000 tons of debris thrown up by the impact.
Read more: Debris-powered asteroid deflection experiment
This was one of the most intriguing Webb pictures of the year. The “WR” refers to Wolf-Rayet. It is a type of star, a big one that is coming to the end of its life. Wolf-Rayets launches huge gaseous winds into space. An invisible companion star in this image is compressing those winds to form dust. The dusty layers you see extend more than 10 trillion kilometers. That’s 70,000 times the distance between Earth and our Sun.
Read more: Dusty Star Mystery Solved by James Webb Telescope
M74, nicknamed the Phantom Galaxy, is known for its ostentatious spiral arms. It’s about 32 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Pisces, lying almost directly in front of us, giving Webb the perfect view of those arms and their structure. The telescope’s detectors are especially good at detecting all the fine filaments of gas and dust.
You can still hear Jonathan Discovery program for the BBC World Service in which he discusses the Webb project with its leading scientists and engineers.
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