Webb takes a side view of the galaxy behind the South Ring Nebula

Webb takes a side view of the galaxy behind the South Ring Nebula
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NASA released two images on Tuesday, which the James Webb Space Telescope Captured from the South Ring Nebula, a huge cloud of dust and gas 2,000 light-years distant from Earth.

Webb’s infrared gaze, which helps him peer through the nebula’s cosmic dust, also revealed something that hadn’t been seen before: a side view of a distant galaxy lurking in the background of the photo.

That bluish streak in this close-up of the image is an edge of the galaxy, Webb scientists said Tuesday.

The bluish streak in this close-up image of the South Ring Nebula is an edge-on galaxy.

Paola Rosa-Aquino/NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI

“I made a bet saying ‘It’s part of the nebula,'” NASA astronomer Karl Gordon said during the image reveal. “I lost the bet, because then we looked more carefully at the Nircam and MIRI images, and it’s clearly an edge-on galaxy.” Because Webb is looking at the edge of the galaxy, it appears as a long, thin, bluish line in the upper left of the image. When viewed from this perspective, astronomers can study how stars are distributed throughout a galaxy.

Webb scientists have yet to provide additional information about the galaxy that bombarded the South Ring Nebula. “Wow. Wow. This. This near-infrared image is… wow,” project scientist Alex Lockwood said as she shared the two new images of the nebula. on Tuesday.

south ring nebula infrared bubbles of gas and colored dust surround two stars

The South Ring Nebula, captured by Webb in mid-infrared light, generated by the remains of a dying star.


Often described as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, Webb was released on December 25, 2021, after more than two decades of development. Since then, the $10 billion telescope has traveled more than 1 million miles from Earth and is now parked in a gravitationally stable orbit, collecting infrared light. By gathering infrared light, which is invisible to the human eye, Webb can cut through cosmic dust and see into the distant past, back to the first 400 million years after the Big Bang.

To show off the telescope’s capabilities and show that the telescope is finally working, NASA presented its first batch of full-color images. The powerful telescope captured two separate views of the South Ring Nebula, both in mid-infrared and near-infrared light.

The South Ring, or “Eight Starbursts” nebula, is a vivid shell of gas and dust ejected into space by a dying star.

“While the star is dying, in its last throes, it starts to tremble. It pulses. And at the end, poof, it comes out,” Klaus Pontoppidan, JWST project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, told reporters. after unveiling the images. “So you see what the star did just before it created this planetary nebula. I find it fascinating because they’re like geological layers, and you can see the story of their last moments.”

Side by side images of a bubbling nebula with arrows pointing to stars in the center

Hubble’s image of the South Ring Nebula (left) has only one light in the center, while JWST (right) clearly shows two stars.

The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA/NASA); NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

The new images not only show that dying star in greater detail, but also revealed a second star, gravitationally bound to it, that was previously hidden from view. The astronomers said that studying the once-hidden stars in detail will help them understand how they shape the cloud of gas and dust.

Over the weekend, the JWST team began its first year of normal science operations. “Today, the Webb mission is open for science business,” said Michelle Thaller, deputy director of science communication at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, adding, “And the best is yet to come.”

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