Stunning Image Crowns JWST’s First Anniversary

Stunning Image Crowns JWST’s First Anniversary

To celebrate the one-year anniversary of the first science-quality images from the James Webb Space Telescope, NASA and its JWST partners released a stunning image of a star-forming region 390 light years away. That is nearby, cosmically speaking, allowing an unobstructed view of the stellar nursery.

Launched on Christmas Day 2021, the $10 billion space telescope took a month to reach its destination a million miles from Earth, unfolding itself along the way in a series of nail-biting deployments. Five months of commissioning the telecope’s instruments followed and a few test images were released. But it was just one year ago today that NASA and its partners, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, held the big reveal of science-quality images.

That was just the beginning of a steady stream of astonishing images of places near and far, from planets in our own solar system to the depths of the universe. Today they chose an image of the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, “a relatively small, quiet stellar nursery,” to celebrate JWST’s birthday.

The first anniversary image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope displays star birth like it’s never been seen before, full of detailed, impressionistic texture. The subject is the Rho Ophiuchi cloud complex, the closest star-forming region to Earth. It is a relatively small, quiet stellar nursery, but you’d never know it from Webb’s chaotic close-up. Jets bursting from young stars crisscross the image, impacting the surrounding interstellar gas and lighting up molecular hydrogen, shown in red. Some stars display the telltale shadow of a circumstellar disk, the makings of future planetary systems. Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Klaus Pontoppidan (STScI).

President Biden tweeted his congratulations including a video from last year when he and Vice President Harris got a sneak preview of those first images.

Harris, who chairs the White House National Space Council, tweeted a set of her favorite JWST images.

JWST is an infrared telescope that sees the universe at a different wavelength than human eyes can see.  Images it’s taken of planets we think we know so well show them in a new light as seen in these images tweeted by @theplanetaryguy last week: Jupiter (top left), Saturn (top right), Uranus (bottom left) and Neptune (bottom right)

While JWST’s images are mesmerizing in and of themselves, the point of spending $10 billion on a telescope is to further our understanding of the universe. That journey has just begun. JWST was designed for a 5-year operational lifetime with a hope it would last 10, but now is expected to last 20 because Europe’s Ariane 5 rocket put it on such a precise trajectory that enough fuel is left to keep it in place longer than planned.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said today that JWST already “has transformed humanity’s view of the cosmos, peering into dust clouds and seeing light from faraway corners of the universe for the very first time. Every new image is a new discovery, empowering scientists around the globe to ask and answer questions they once could never dream of.”  Nicky Fox, NASA’s head of science, called JWST an “engineering marvel” that  “has given us a more intricate understanding of galaxies, stars, and the atmospheres of planets outside of our solar system than ever before, laying the groundwork for NASA to lead the world in a new era of scientific discovery and the search for habitable worlds.”

The Space Telescope Science Institute or STScI in Baltimore, MD operates JWST as well as the much-beloved Hubble Space Telescope, still operating in Earth orbit 33 years after launch thanks to five servicing missions by astronauts on NASA’s space shuttle. Updates on discoveries by JWST and Hubble are available on its website.

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