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Webb Wows Us

The first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope have been released, and they don’t disappoint!

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScl, and B. Holler and J. Stansberry (STScl)

The James Webb Space Telescope has just begun its mission, but scientists say it is already changing the way we see the universe. Webb can detect infrared light, which the human eye can’t see, so it’s capable of giving us detailed images from deep space. Recently, the telescope released its first images…showing us parts of our universe that, until recently, have been mostly a mystery. 

One of the images revealed the Southern Ring Nebula, which is 2,500 light-years away from Earth. A nebula is a cloud made up of swirling dust and gases. It’s often the result of a dying star. Webb’s image of the Southern Ring Nebula shows that star, looking relatively hazy in the center of the nebula. The image also includes a brighter star that’s at an earlier stage of its life cycle and will one day eject its own nebula. 

New stars can form in nebulae, and Webb captured what scientists call a “stellar nursery”—a place where many stars are born. The image is of a region of the Carina Nebula, located 7,600 light-years away from our planet. It shows countless twinkling lights in and around a beautiful cloud of dust. NASA calls this region the Cosmic Cliffs because the dust cloud has taken on the shape of mountains and valleys. The stars in the Carina Nebula look tiny in the image, but NASA says many of them are much larger than our Sun. 

Another image shows a group of five galaxies known as Stephan’s Quintet. Four of these galaxies, which are located 290 million light-years away, are moving (as everything in the universe does) and interacting. When galaxies interact, it can result in the formation of new stars and new galaxies. The  image from Webb is giving scientists a front-row seat to witness this “cosmic dance,” as NASA calls it.

These amazing images are just the beginning. Webb could operate for as many as 20 years, plenty of time to provide detailed views of exoplanets (planets outside our solar system) as well as some of the oldest galaxies. Scientists can’t even predict everything Webb will show them.

“The universe has [always] been out there,” said Jane Rigby, Webb operations project scientist at NASA. “We just had to build a telescope to go see what was there.” 

Did You Know?

This video shows a simulation of galaxies colliding over billions of years.

Frank Summers (STScI), Gurtina Besla (Columbia University), and Roeland van der Marel (STScI)

Everything in the universe is moving. New galaxies can form when two galaxies collide. In about 4.5 billion years, our Milky Way galaxy will collide with the Andromeda galaxy, forming a new galaxy.

Star Power

An explosion of gas from a star

NASA Goddard

Supernovae look amazing, but they’re actually fairly common.

Stars can live for millions or even billions of years. The bigger a star is, the faster it uses its fuel, and the shorter its life will be. 

What does that mean for the Sun, the star on which we depend for heat and light? The Sun is a yellow dwarf—a medium-sized star. It’s about halfway through its lifespan. In about five billion years, the Sun will expand to a red giant and then collapse. It will cast off its outer layers, leaving its core behind in a nebula of gas. The remaining core will be a dense object called a white dwarf that will shine as a star for trillions of years.

When the life of a giant star—one that’s at least five times the mass of our Sun—comes to an end, there’s an enormous explosion called a supernova. Here’s how it works:

Massive stars burn huge amounts of nuclear fuel at their cores. This produces a lot of energy, so the core gets very hot. Heat generates pressure, and that pressure keeps the star from collapsing. But when the star runs out of fuel, it cools off, causing the pressure to drop. Gravity wins. The star collapses in a giant explosion—a supernova. Dust and gas get thrown out into space, creating a nebula and, in some cases, a very dense object called a black hole.

Webb of Wonders

The James Webb Space Telescope is just getting started. What else can it show us?

Illustration of the James Webb Space Telescope in orbit above Earth

© Grejak/




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