February 28, 2023

Exploring the Cosmos: The James Webb Space Telescope

Today, we are navigating a new era of space exploration!

For centuries, humans have been fascinated with astronomy and space exploration, peering across the universe to discover as much as we can about planets, galaxies and the cosmos. Today, we are navigating a new era of space exploration!

Launched on December 25, 2021, from Kourou, French Guiana, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is an orbiting infrared telescope that is giving scientists a better look at and understanding of the early universe.

As the successor to the famous Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope is the most powerful telescope ever built.

Increased sensitivity and wavelength coverage allow the James Webb Space Telescope to expand upon the contributions of the Hubble Space Telescope.

A Look at the Early Universe

Why does the James Webb Space Telescope use infrared detection to peer into the early universe? The answer lies in a physical phenomenon known as redshift.

Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity tells us that the universe is expanding, meaning that the distance between galaxies is increasing. Because of this, light from the earliest stars and galaxies has been redshifted—or decreased in energy.

The decrease in energy puts light that started as visible into the infrared part of the light spectrum. The James Webb Space Telescope was specifically designed to observe this part of the spectrum.

Let’s look at some recent images captured by the James Webb Space Telescope!

NGC 1433
Release Date: February 16, 2023

This image is a barred spiral galaxy with a double ring structure called NGC 1433, taken by the James Webb Space Telescope’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI).

NGC 1433 is over 46 million light years away from Earth and has a supermassive black hole at the center. The spiral arms of the galaxy are full of young stars.


Pandora’s Cluster
Release Date: February 15, 2023

Pandora’s Cluster combines massive galaxy clusters forming a super-cluster 3.5 billion light-years away from Earth.

The mass of the cluster is so high that it creates a naturally occurring effect known as gravitational lensing, where the distant light from the early universe is bent around the massive cluster and magnified.

This image represents an estimate of 50,000 sources of light coming from varying distances. Images like this highlight the vastness of the universe!

SCIENCE: NASA, ESA, CSA, Ivo Labbe (Swinburne), Rachel Bezanson (University of Pittsburgh)

Carina Nebula
Release Date: December 15, 2022

This is an image of a star-forming region within the Carina Nebula located 7,600 light-years from Earth. Stars are formed when huge clouds of gas and dust collapse due to gravitational attraction.

The pressure from the collapsing clouds heats the center of the clouds until eventually, the core ignites fusion, birthing a star.

SCIENCE: Megan Reiter (Rice University)
IMAGE PROCESSING: Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI)

See the universe like never before in Edge of Darkness, now playing on the biggest screen in the Carolinas! Prepare for a celestial journey with the world’s most advanced planetarium system inside the Accenture IMAX Dome Theatre at Discovery Place Science.