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More Webb images released

Southern Ring Nebula, as taken by Webb
Click for full image.

As planned, NASA this morning released four new science images from the James Webb Space Telescope, in addition to the deep field image released yesterday.

All are spectacular, with each producing new information not previously observed. To see the Stephen’s Quintet image go here. For the exoplanet data, showing the presence of water in its atmosphere, go here. For the Carina nebula image, go here.

The image to the right, reduced to post here, shows the Southern Ring Nebula as taken by two Webb cameras in different infrared wavelengths. From the press release:

Two stars, which are locked in a tight orbit, shape the local landscape. Webb’s infrared images feature new details in this complex system. The stars – and their layers of light – are prominent in the image from Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) [at the top], while the image from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) on the [bottom] shows for the first time that the second star is surrounded by dust. The brighter star is in an earlier stage of its stellar evolution and will probably eject its own planetary nebula in the future.

In the meantime, the brighter star influences the nebula’s appearance. As the pair continues to orbit one another, they “stir the pot” of gas and dust, causing asymmetrical patterns.

Because this is an infrared image, the colors are not natural, but were assigned based on the slightly different infrared wavelengths produced by the object’s different features. From the image’s webpage:

Several filters were used to sample narrow and broad wavelength ranges. The color results from assigning different hues (colors) to each monochromatic (grayscale) image associated with an individual filter.

Eventually astronomers will use Webb to look at many astronomical objects that Hubble has been observing for the past thirty years, adding a high resolution infrared view that will add to Hubble’s views.

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On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Tim M

    I do believe the Webb is just on the cusp of some amazing research and beautiful images of the cosmos. I do have, what I think is, a technical question. I expected the bright points of light to be round, however, every one is rendered in the images as a 6 point star like we learned to draw in grade school. Is this a function of the shape of the mirrors or part of the photographic processing?

  • Tim M: I am not certain and could be wrong, but those 6-pointed points are the only stars in this image. Notice that the tiny galaxies do not have the 6-points.

    My guess is that Webb’s focus in this image is optimized for seeing the faint galaxies in the far far distance, and thus the stars are not rendered as sharp points of light.

  • Call Me Ishmael

    “… 6 point star like we learned to draw in grade school. Is this a function of the shape of the mirrors …”

    Diffraction spikes. The mirror is hexagonal, and made up of (I forget how many) smaller hexagonal segments. So the mirror’s diffraction pattern (i.e. the theoretical shape of the image it creates from a true point source) is going have 6-fold symmetry.

    Although the one I’m looking at, at bottom right in the top image, actually has 8-fold symmetry. ????? I’m still willing to bet they’re diffraction spikes.

  • Edward

    Tim M,
    Call Me Ishmael is correct that this is a feature of the optics and the way the telescope is built. It is similar to the lens “flares” we see in some music videos when the lens points too close to a bright light source. The stars are brighter, so this feature is more prominent than in the target object. The six main points are 60˚ apart. Ishmael points out two fainter horizontal points that have a similar cause, the construction of the telescope. Seeing them in some stars but not others is a bit like having a portion of the image overexposed in order to get the detail of the fainter target object.

  • Jeff Wright

    I think the pix’ with the orange glow result from the gold mirror-coat-the purest image perhaps used to inspect the mirror surface by starlight?

  • Alex Andrite

    … followed the links referenced. Great info.
    Regarding the ‘Quintet’ … “The field of view shown in this image is approximately 370,000 light-years across.”
    Field of view, not depth / distance. Incredible beauty.

    Class, we now have a brand new Microscope in the classroom !!
    Bring your sample of pond water tomorrow, and we will all take a look.

  • sippin_bourbon

    You are correct, Mr Z, the objects with the flares or spikes are indeed stars.

    They are “in the foreground” of the image.

    While it was already known that this was a binary system, the IR image makes it remarkably clear to see.

    Astronomers have, in the last decade, realized how binaries are much more common that we originally thought.

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