James Webb Stephan’s Quintet
July 12, 2022 - NASA revealed stunning inaugural images from the James Webb Telescope on Tuesday (July 12, 2022), showing billions of years of cosmic evolution. The U.S., European and Canadian space agencies, partners in the $10bn telescope, hailed “the dawn of a new era in astronomy.”
“These scientific images come from five days’ observing,” said Mark McCaughrean, senior science adviser at the European Space Agency. “Think of what’s to come in the months and years ahead.”
The release of images from NASA’s eventual successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, launched in 1990, follows the unveiling by U.S. president Joe Biden of the first image by Webb.
With an uninspiring designation, SMACS 0723 shows a swirl of infant galaxies forming in the young universe. Webb’s ultra-sharp near-infrared view shows the galaxy cluster as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago when our solar system formed.
One of the most striking images shows the Southern Ring Nebula, an expanding cloud of dust and gas situated in our Milky Way galaxy some 2,000 light-years away. Webb’s powerful infrared eyes showed that two dying stars lie close together at their centre for the first time.
Much further away -- about 290 million light-years away -- a group of five galaxies in the constellation Pegasus, known as Stephan’s Quintet, can be seen “locked in a cosmic dance in which two of them are actually merging”, said Giovanna Giardino, an ESA scientist who worked on Webb. “One of the galaxies has an active black hole and we see material being swallowed by it,” said Giardino
Although called a “quintet,” only four galaxies are truly close together. The fifth and leftmost galaxy, NGC 7320, is well in the foreground, a mere 40 million light-years from Earth.
Another “star nursery” observed by Webb is Carina Nebula, 7,600 light-years away. This landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” dotted with glittering stars is the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula.
Ultraviolet radiation from the young stars sculpts the nebula’s wall by slowly eroding it away. Dramatic pillars tower above the glowing wall of gas, resisting this radiation. The “steam” that appears to rise from the “mountains” is hot, ionized gas and hot dust streaming