On Tuesday, July 12, NASA released the first full images and data from the James Webb Space Telescope. The images, which have been highly anticipated since the telescope’s launch on Christmas Day 2021, are some of the most detailed and dazzling of deep space as seen by the human eye to date.
The Hubble, which performed similar duties in the past, returned images that were still astounding but were blurry and more difficult to see. The difference between the two aerospace marvels lies not only with the advancements in technology but also in the functions of the two telescopes. Using infrared wavelengths instead of simply gathering light, Webb’s mirror is nearly double the size of Hubble’s, allowing more light to gather and more distance to be seen. The Hubble is also placed lower in Earth’s orbit (only about 570km above the planet), while Webb is 1.5 million km away from our home, which means more space can be explored.
One of the most stunning images retrieved by Webb was the Southern Ring Planetary Nebula. The nebula, also previously captured by Hubble, shows a dying central star of gas purging gas and dust over 2,000 light-years away. When you look closer at the center of the nebula, you may notice something oddly familiar to Star Wars fans; two bright stars, one red and one blue.
If you felt similar to a specific moisture farmboy on a desert planet looking into the sunset as you stared at these images, you were not alone. These images are capturing galaxies far beyond our own, and because of the way light travels, all of the images we see are actually from thousands of years ago. Does this mean that the Webb Telescope captured a binary star system from a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?
Much is left to be discovered from NASA’s Webb and the marvels it will bring us. Although the existence of other galaxies has been known for centuries, scientists hope to use Webb’s findings to learn about how galaxies form and evolve in the universe and the possibility of other life forms.
As for now, perhaps we can take comfort in the fact that somewhere there may be a Luke Skywalker wondering where his place is in this big, expansive universe.
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