It has been a groundbreaking year for astronomy with Wednesday marking the one-year anniversary of the first color images from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). During this time, the telescope has peered into the previously hidden depths of the universe, focusing on planets in our celestial neighborhood and spying on galaxies that are older than the Earth.
Launched on Dec. 25, 2021, the JWST is stationed at a Lagrange point (L2), where the gravitational forces of the Earth and sun keep it anchored at a point roughly 1 million miles away from the planet. That is a darker area of space compared to a low Earth orbit, allowing the most powerful telescope ever launched to take crisper images of distant worlds.
An image of the Carina Nebula became an instant classic, showing an interstellar nursery approximately 7,600 light-years away from Earth. Every dot of light is a distant star, while the wisps of cosmic dust glow in shades of red, orange and yellow.
In recent months, scientists have focused the JWST on planets in our solar system. In the process, they’ve captured detailed images of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.
“Webb’s high-resolution capabilities are shedding new light on these celestial bodies, unraveling mysteries and inspiring future generations of astronomers,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
One of the most impressive images was of Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, which was seen spewing water 6,000 miles into space at a rate of 79 gallons per second. The debris from the moon created one of Saturn’s famous rings.
Scientists also took new, jaw-dropping images of the Pillars of Creation, one of the most iconic universe images first seen by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995. The pillars are massive towers of dust approximately 6,500 light-years from Earth, and the power of the JWST helped scientists spot stars around the pillars that were previously unseen.
The year of groundbreaking discoveries did not come without setbacks.
Some of the 18 gold-plated mirrors have already been dinged by micrometeorites, tiny pieces of space debris that move through the cosmos at extreme rates of speed.
More collisions are likely throughout the telescope’s lifetime, which is expected to last five to 10 years before the telescope runs out of fuel.
Produced in association with AccuWeather
Edited by Alberto Arellano and Joseph Hammond
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