On July 12, 2022 NASA released for the first time, high resolution images of the cosmos taken by the James Webb telescope. While the images have become viral, in general, they are perceived as pretty pictures of our universe. But beyond the glitz and glamour, each image actually reveals a secret about our origins and the early universe.
Here we display some of the pictures released, and break down the hidden meaning behind the photos.
Let’s start with this Image of the “cosmic cliffs” in the Carina Nebula, which is roughly 7,600 light years away. The Webb telescope’s “NIRCam – with its crisp resolution and unparalleled sensitivity – unveils hundreds of previously hidden stars, and even numerous background galaxies,” according to the NASA blog.
What Does the Carina Nebula Photo Mean?
Here is how NASA describes it.
The “steam” that appears to rise from the “celestial mountains” is actually hot, ionized gas and hot dust streaming away from the nebula due to intense, ultraviolet radiation. The dramatic pillars rise above the glowing wall of gas, resisting the blistering ultraviolet radiation from the young stars.
But what’s more important is to understand is that this is not how the Carina Nebula is looking today. The image captured by the telescope is 7,600 years old, because the light from the Nebula takes so many years to reach Earth.
To understand this better, imagine our Sun. If anything were to happen to our Sun, it would take 8 seconds for us to see it, because it takes 8 seconds for light to reach Earth from the Sun. In a similar way, it takes 7,600 years from the Carina Nebula.
Let’s move on to the Southern Ring Nebula. “This side-by-side comparison shows observations of the Southern Ring Nebula in near-infrared light, at left, and mid-infrared light, at right, from NASA’s Webb Telescope,” according to the NASA blog.
The images show two stars at the center. The red core at the center of the photo is a dying star in the Milky Way galaxy. This hot red star was captured by Webb and was not visible in previous telescopes.
The following is the image of Stephan’s Quintet:
According to NASA, it is the “largest image to date from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, covering about one-fifth of the Moon’s diameter. It contains over 150 million pixels and is constructed from almost 1,000 separate image files. Sparkling clusters of millions of young stars and starburst regions of fresh star births grace the image. Sweeping tails of gas, dust, and stars are being pulled from several of the galaxies due to gravitational interactions.”