Ring Nebula with unprecedented detail. Credits: Flicks

James Webb, a year of discoveries

The James Webb Space Telescope completes a year of incredible exploration and observation, let's see in detail some of the most stunning images ever taken

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), one of the most ambitious space observatories ever built, launched on December 25, 2021, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket, has been capturing the imagination of scientists and space enthusiasts. Equipped with advanced technology and an unprecedented level of sensitivity, the JWST has been uncovering the secrets of the cosmos and revolutionizing our comprehension of the universe. Let’s take a look at some of the remarkable discoveries made by this amazing telescope.

JWST mission logo. Credits: ESA
JWST mission logo. Credits: ESA


Looking at the dawn 

One of the primary objectives of the JWST is to study the early universe, a period known as the “cosmic dawn.” By observing the light from the first stars and galaxies that formed shortly after the Big Bang, in its initial observations, the JWST has provided breathtaking images of distant galaxies. Webb’s First Deep Field is the name of the first operational image of the first deep field observation obtained by the telescope and released on July 11, 2022. The image shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 from the southern hemisphere, it is the image of the early Universe with the highest resolution ever taken. These observations have allowed astronomers to study the processes involved in galaxy formation and understand how the universe evolved over billions of years.

Webb’s first deep field. Credits: Flicks
Webb’s first deep field. Credits: ESA

A probable companion in this universe

The JWST is also equipped with instruments designed to study exoplanets, and planets orbiting stars outside our solar system. On January 11, 2023, NASA scientists announced the discovery of LHS 475 b, an Earth-sized planet. It is the first extrasolar planet discovered by the JWST. By analyzing the atmospheres of these exoplanets, scientists can search for signs of habitability and even signs of life. These observations have the potential to bring us closer to answering one of humanity’s most profound questions: Are we alone in the universe? In case of an answer whether yes or no it would be stunning to mankind.

Graphic illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope
Graphic illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope. Credits: NASA


Looking so far, but also so close

While the JWST‘s primary focus is on the distant universe, the telescope managed to focus its infrared gaze even on our closest neighbours by analyzing Jupiter and Uranus, giving us spectacular images of these two gas giants. The telescope has provided detailed information about the composition and dynamics of these planets. As for the observation of Uranus, studies on April 6 2023 show many rings around the planet. There are also bright spots revealing clouds related to stormy weather in the atmosphere. Webb also captured a polar ice cap, but it’s not water ice like it is on Earth! 

Zoomed-in image of Uranus, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). Credits: Flickr
Zoomed-in image of Uranus, captured by Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam). Credits: ESA

Observing Jupiter Using infrared instruments, Webb spotted many details that are difficult to see with other telescopes. Jupiter’s storms are visible in incredible detail, as are the aurora borealis, where particles from the sun interact with Jupiter’s magnetic field. Webb also got a glimpse of two of Jupiter’s smaller moons, Amalthea and Adrastea. These observations will contribute to our understanding of our neighboring planets and help pave the way for future exploration.

Jupiter showcases aurorae, hazes (NIRCam widefield view). Credits: Flickr
Jupiter showcases aurorae, hazes (NIRCam widefield view). Credits: ESA


It’s chemistry time. 

The JWST can analyze the chemical composition of objects in space, providing valuable insights into the building blocks of life. On June 26, 2023 An international team of scientists used data collected by the Telescope to detect a molecule known as the methyl cation (CH3+) for the first time, located in the protoplanetary disc surrounding a young star. Carbon chemistry is of particular interest to astronomers because all known life is carbon-based. These findings offer exciting clues about the potential for life beyond Earth.

Webb’s View of the Molecular Cloud Chameleon. Credits: Flickr
Webb’s View of the Molecular Cloud Chameleon. Credits: ESA

Observe under a new lens.

One of the key features of the JWST is its supreme sensitivity, allowing it to detect extremely distant objects and capture intricate details of what’s nearest. On August 21, 2023 our beloved telescope observed the well-known Ring Nebula with unprecedented detail. Formed by a star throwing off its outer layers as it runs out of fuel. It is extremely important to observe objects already studied in previous decades, as technological progress and the baggage of new knowledge can always make us have new scientific discoveries.

Ring Nebula with unprecedented detail. Credits: Flicks
Ring Nebula with unprecedented detail. Credits: ESA

In a galaxy far far away….

In a breathtaking image of the Abell 2744 galaxy cluster captured on November 17, 2022, by  JWST, astronomers have made an extraordinary discovery—the presence of some of the oldest galaxies in the universe. Nestled within this cosmic tapestry of galaxies, approximately between 350 and 450 million years after the Big Bang. These primordial galaxies, provide invaluable insights into the processes of galaxy formation and the early evolution of our cosmic neighborhood. The image serves as a demonstration of Webb’s unrivaled capabilities, illuminating the depths of time and space.

Abell 2744 galaxy cluster. Credits: webbtelescope
Abell 2744 galaxy cluster. Credits: NASA/ Goddard


The biggest one ever seen

The JWST has once again pushed the boundaries of our understanding of the cosmos and discovered the most distant active supermassive black hole. Through observations on July 6, 2023, scientists have identified the galaxy CEERS 1019, which emerged just over 570 million years after the Big Bang. By capturing the intense radiation emitted from the accretion disks surrounding these black holes, scientists have been able to estimate their enormous masses, often exceeding millions or even billions of times that of our Sun. These remarkable findings not only deepen our knowledge of black holes but also shed light on the intricate mechanics of galactic evolution and the role these colossal structures play in shaping the universe.

Graph representing the distance of black holes
Graph representing the distance of black holes. Credits: NASA/ Goddard

Now aim for the future

As we reflect on the achievements of the James Webb Space Telescope in its inaugural year, we can only anticipate the wealth of knowledge and amazing discoveries that lie ahead. With its advanced capabilities and revolutionary technology, this extraordinary observatory is ready to reshape our understanding of the cosmos. The discoveries made by the JWST will leave an indelible mark on humanity’s quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe.


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Federico Coppola

Federico Coppola

Graduated in history from Federico II University in Naples, passionate about space, writing, and with an incurable dream of flying up through the clouds to reach the stars.
Admin of the Instagram page Italian_space_meme

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