When the James Webb Space Telescope, astronomers gave her an infinite number of tasks. I say infinite because This engineering marvel isn’t just an answer to every question we have about the universe. It is to answer questions that no human being has ever thought to ask.
But before you skip ahead to that curious ultimate goal, our cool new lenses areWe have already introduced them, one of which is to break through the veil of gas and cosmic dust and reveal the secret adventures of the stars within. Things that standard optical telescopes, like Hubble, can’t always see.
Behold, on Tuesday, JWST deciphered a bright scene behind one of the dark curtains in space, a dusty canopy obscuring a pair of merging galaxies some 270 million light-years from Earth.
What am I looking at?
We have two worlds, called IC 1623 A and B, stuck on a collision course through space and time. It is located in the constellation Cetus, and has long been the subject of interest to scientists for several reasons.
Perhaps most surprisingly, it could be on its way to forming a supermassive black hole – a massive void with enough gravitational force to distort the fabric of our universe as we know it.
But this Cave of Emerging Destruction was expected to be addicted to a pendant of light.
The high intensity of IC 1623’s galactic merger also spurred the creation of a graceful star-forming region nearby. It’s called a starburst, and precisely that, according to the European Space Agency, is producing new stars at a rate more than 20 times the rate of the Milky Way.
And the this is is what JWST picked up.
Hubble has already given us a first look at IC 1623 A and B, but the latest decade of astronomy with space has pierced the cosmic veil of binary, just as scientists had hoped from the start. By doing so, he showed us the luminous essence of this fusion and presented mankind with a complete and charming image of IC 1623 instead of a hidden image with a central area left to our imagination.
Why can JWST do what Hubble can’t?
Two words: infrared photography.
All light emitted from deep space can be classified on a type of graph known as the electromagnetic spectrum. Different wavelengths of light, which also translate to different colors in our eyes, are present in different parts. On one hand, you have red wavelengths, and on the other hand, bluer wavelengths.
But if you go beyond the red side of the electromagnetic spectrum, as some light already does, you will reach infrared light.
Infrared light, unlike regular red light, is essentially invisible to human eyes. This means that it is also invisible to instruments that operate like human eyes, even if they are really powerful versions like the Hubble Space Telescope.
But infrared light is precisely the type of light emitted by stars within most thick cosmic dust clouds, like the veil surrounding IC 1623. So to find out what’s going on inside, we need a telescope to detect infrared light. And this is JWST.
As a side note, light from stars and other phenomena that are actually very far from Earth reach our planet as infrared light as well. That’s why JWST is equipped to provide us with information about far The universe as it was near the beginning of time, information invisible to us and the Hubble Space Telescope. More on that here.
Going back to IC 1623, ESA explains that “Webb’s sensitivity to infrared radiation and its remarkable accuracy at those wavelengths allows it to see beyond the dust and has resulted in the wonderful image above, which is a combination of MIRI and NIRCam images,” referring to two JWST-related instruments. High tech.
The other Easter egg in this photo, as with all of the JWST photos, is the eight-branched diffraction spikes you see in the middle. (It appears to be six spikes, but there are two small spikes moving horizontally across the midpoint. It’s hard to see.) All JWST images have this signature, unlike Hubble’s four-pronged version.
In general, these spikes are very prominent when there is a lot of light in an image, which explains why the telescope’s latest image of a galactic nucleus appears as a bright central snowflake.
Hopefully, the next time JWST focuses her lens, she’ll be on one of those scenes with evidence of something we never thought we’d ask.
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