A year after the publication of its first snapshots of the cosmos, the James Webb Space Telescope delivered a spectacular new image on Wednesday, capturing the birth of stars similar to our Sun.
Jets of red hydrogen dominate the picture, caused by nascent stars bursting out of their cocoon of dust. It is the closest star-forming region to Earth, 390 light-years away, located in the Rho Ophiuchi gas cloud.
This image, which contains about 50 young stars of a size similar to our Sun, “allows us to witness with new clarity a very brief period in the life cycle of stars”, explained Klaus Pontoppidan, responsible for of James Webb’s science program at the Space Telescope Science Institute. “Our Sun went through a phase like this a long time ago. »
On July 12, 2022, the American space agency unveiled the first color images of its new space observatory. The event marked the beginning of the scientific operations of this jewel of technology, evolving 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth.
“In just one year, the James Webb Telescope has transformed humanity’s view of the cosmos,” NASA boss Bill Nelson said in a statement. “Each new image is a discovery, encouraging scientists around the world to ask and answer questions they couldn’t even dream of before. »
For this first anniversary, NASA has planned to come back to this year of discoveries during a live video broadcast on the Internet.
That the beginning
For a year, James Webb has been dazzling astronomers with images of a precision never achieved before.
He observed the most distant of the galaxies ever detected, supermassive black holes, measured for the first time the temperature of rocky planets “cousins” of the Earth, of which he even began to analyze the atmosphere.
The stream of scientific studies derived from his observations is constant.
One of the telescope’s main missions is to explore the very young universe, only a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Another major area of research: the study of exoplanets, that is to say planets outside the solar system. It should also help to better understand the formation and life cycle of stars.
In addition to these accomplishments, the general public was able to revel in sumptuous images. In October, James Webb notably revealed his first shot of the iconic “Pillars of Creation”, huge structures of gas and dust teeming with forming stars, 6,500 light years from Earth, in our Milky Way. .
The flight of this flying observatory worth 10 billion dollars, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket at the end of 2021, had crowned decades of work.
It is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, itself still in operation. Unlike Hubble, which observes the Universe mainly in the visible spectrum, James Webb operates in the infrared. This allows him to detect much weaker lights, and therefore to see much further.
This wavelength being imperceptible to human eyes, the pictures are then “translated” into visible colors.
The region captured by the image published on Wednesday is “completely dark when observed with Hubble”, specified on Twitter Klaus Pontoppidan.
James Webb has enough fuel to run for 20 years.
Researchers around the world can book observing time with the telescope, which is carefully scheduled in one-year increments.
“We’ve selected an ambitious set of observations for year two, based on everything we’ve learned so far,” said Jane Rigby of NASA’s Goddard Space Center. “James Webb’s scientific mission has only just begun. »