NASA’s new telescope shows star death, dancing galaxies

NASA on Tuesday unveiled a new batch of images from its new powerful space telescope, including a foamy blue and orange shot of a dying star. The first image from the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope was released Monday at the White House — a jumble of distant galaxies that went deeper into the cosmos than humanity has ever seen.

The four additional photos released Tuesday included more cosmic beauty shots. With one exception, the latest images showed parts of the universe seen by other telescopes. But Webb’s sheer power, distant location off Earth and use of the infrared light spectrum showed them in new light.

“Every image is a new discovery and each will give humanity a view of the humanity that we’ve never seen before,’’ NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Tuesday, rhapsodizing over images showing “the formation of stars, devouring black holes.”

Webb’s use of the infrared light spectrum allows the telescope to see through the cosmic dust and “see light from faraway light from the corners of the universe,” he said.

“We’ve really changed the understanding of our universe,” said European Space Agency director general Josef Aschbacher.

The European and Canadian space agencies joined NASA in building the powerful telescope.

On tap Tuesday:

— The Southern Ring Nebula, which is sometimes called “eight-burst.’ About 2,500 light-years away, it shows an expanding cloud of gas surrounding a dying star. A light-year is 5.8 trillion miles.

The Southern Ring Nebula is pictured here in near-infrared (left) and mid-infrared (right). Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

— Carina Nebula, one of the bright stellar nurseries in the sky, about 7,600 light-years away.

The Carina Nebula is a hotbed of star formation. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

— Five galaxies in a cosmic dance, 290 million light-years away. Stephan’s Quintet was first seen 225 years ago in the constellation Pegasus.

This image of the Stephan’s Quintet was made using data from NIRSpec and MIRI. (Image credit: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

— A blueish giant planet called WASP-96b. It’s about the size of Saturn and is 1,150 light-years away. A gas planet, it’s not a candidate for life elsewhere but a key target for astronomers.

The first spectrum of an exoplanet captured by Webb (Image credit: NASA)

The images were released one-by-one at an event at NASA’s Goddard Space Center that included cheerleaders with pompoms the colour of the telescope’s golden mirrors.

The world’s biggest and most powerful space telescope rocketed away last December from French Guiana in South America. It reached its lookout point 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth in January. Then the lengthy process began to align the mirrors, get the infrared detectors cold enough to operate and calibrate the science instruments, all protected by a sunshade the size of a tennis court that keeps the telescope cool.

Webb is considered the successor to the highly successful, but aging Hubble Space Telescope.

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