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The two images to the right, reduced and annotated to post here, were released today by the science team of the James Webb Space Telescope, and show two different views of the Tarantula Nebula, located 161,000 light years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud.
It is home to the hottest, most massive stars known. Astronomers focused three of Webb’s high-resolution infrared instruments on the Tarantula. Viewed with Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) [top], the region resembles a burrowing tarantula’s home, lined with its silk. The nebula’s cavity centered in the NIRCam image has been hollowed out by blistering radiation from a cluster of massive young stars, which sparkle pale blue in the image. Only the densest surrounding areas of the nebula resist erosion by these stars’ powerful stellar winds, forming pillars that appear to point back toward the cluster. These pillars contain forming protostars, which will eventually emerge from their dusty cocoons and take their turn shaping the nebula.
…The region takes on a different appearance when viewed in the longer infrared wavelengths detected by Webb’s Mid-infrared Instrument (MIRI) [bottom]. The hot stars fade, and the cooler gas and dust glow. Within the stellar nursery clouds, points of light indicate embedded protostars, still gaining mass. While shorter wavelengths of light are absorbed or scattered by dust grains in the nebula, and therefore never reach Webb to be detected, longer mid-infrared wavelengths penetrate that dust, ultimately revealing a previously unseen cosmic environment.
As with all images from Webb, these are false color, as the telescope views the infrared heat produced by stars and galaxies and interstellar clouds, not the optical light our eyes see. Thus, the scientists assign different colors to the range of wavelengths each instrument on Webb captures.
These photos once again illustrate Webb’s value. It will provide a new layer of data to supplement the basic visual information provided by the Hubble Space Telescope, allowing scientists to better understand the puzzles we see in the optical.
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