James Webb just sent in a record-breaking image! Shows interstellar gas in best detail to date – Teach Me About Science

James Webb is now fully aligned on all four of his science instruments, to prove it he recently sent back sharp images. Now Webb’s team decided to take a closer look at the same target and boom. We have the image showing the chemistry of interstellar gas in unprecedented detail!

This last image is a performance demonstration of Webb’s coldest instrument, which is known as the mid-infrared instrument, or MIRI. The image shows part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way. Next, we’ll see a close-up of the MIRI image compared to a previous image of the same target taken with the Infrared Array Camera of the Spitzer Space Telescope from NASA.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (left), NASA/ESA/CSA/STScI (right).

The Spitzer Telescope, now retired, was one of NASA’s great observatories and the first to provide high-resolution images of the universe in the near and mid-infrared. Webb with its significantly larger primary mirror and improved detectors will allow us to see the infrared sky more clearly, enabling even more discoveries.

During a press briefing today (May 9), NASA officials explain that the new MIRI image showed interstellar gas chemistry in the best detail yet, including the emission of carbon and hydrogen molecules called “hydrocarbons.” polycyclic aromatics’, considered some of the basic components of life. This imaging ability is crucial in helping Webb understand how stars and protoplanetary systems form.

“Webb’s MIRI image shows interstellar gas in unprecedented detail. Here you can see the emission of “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons,” or carbon and hydrogen molecules that play an important role in the thermal balance and chemistry of interstellar gas,” NASA said in a statement.

Late last month, Webb confirmed that the lineup has gone perfectly well, capturing sharp, well-focused images with each of its four powerful onboard science instruments.

The fact that the new telescope is “fully aligned” means that Webb’s mirrors now direct fully focused light collected from space toward each instrument. And so he has shown, each instrument is successfully capturing images with the light that reaches them. In the mosaic below, each image is a demonstration of one of Webb’s instruments being fully aligned with the telescope and in focus.

Image of Webb with each of his instruments. (Credit: NASA/STScI).

Yes, this means that the most sophisticated space telescope in history has already completed the optical alignment. It is now in its final phase which includes commissioning activities – delving into the details of the scientific instruments, the heart of Webb. This phase will take approximately 2 months, allowing observations to start within the planned time, in the middle of the year.

During this final setup of the telescope, you will look at a variety of objects in space, including those that are in apparent fast motion like the planets, satellites, asteroids, and comets of our solar system. We say “apparent” rapid motion because in reality all bodies move at great speeds, only the enormous distances make them appear almost immobile.

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