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A JWST image of the Tarantula Nebula
Copyright  Space Telescope Science Institute Office of Public Outreach/NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

In pictures: James Webb Telescope reveals thousands of new stars in the Tarantula Nebula

By Giulia Carbonaro  with AP

Never before have we been able to view the universe the way the James Webb Space Telescope is showing it to us now.

Our naked eye would never be able to see what the telescope sees: travelling through light and space, James Webb can see the origins of the universe - something our minds can hardly begin to grasp.

Working like a time machine, the first images shared by this powerful telescope on July 12 showed us far-off galaxies, the death of stars, and the atmosphere of planets outside our solar system.

In newly-released images from NASA, the nebula 30 Doradus can be seen showcased in all its glory. 

Nicknamed the Tarantula Nebula, it's a favourite of astronomers studying star formation, as one of the largest and brightest star-forming regions in the galaxies nearest to our Milky Way.

The Tarantula Nebula lies 161,000 light-years away in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy. It gets its name from the long dusty filaments resembling spiders legs in older images.

The James Webb Telescope, however, captures the stellar nursery in new levels of clarity, showcasing tens of thousands of never-before-seen young stars that were previously shrouded in cosmic dust.

Iconic Phantom Galaxy

This stunning image is of the so-called Phantom Galaxy (M74). Webb's ability to pick up longer wavelengths of light allows scientists to pinpoint star-forming regions in galaxies such as this one.

This image reveals masses of gas and dust in the galaxy's arms, and a dense cluster of stars at its core.

ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team
The James Webb Telescope's view of the Phantom GalaxyESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, J. Lee and the PHANGS-JWST Team

First direct image of a distant exoplanet

NASA has also released unprecedented observations of a planet outside our solar system, making use of the James Webb Space Telescope’s powerful infrared gaze to reveal new details that ground-based telescopes would not be able to detect.

The image of exoplanet HIP 65426 b, a gas giant about six to 12 times the mass of Jupiter, is the first time the Webb telescope has taken a direct image of a planet beyond the solar system.

NASA/ESA/CSA, A Carter (UCSC), the ERS 1386 team, and A. Pagan (STScI)
This image shows the exoplanet HIP 65426 b in different bands of infrared light, as seen from the James Webb Space Telescope.NASA/ESA/CSA, A Carter (UCSC), the ERS 1386 team, and A. Pagan (STScI)

"This is a transformative moment, not only for Webb but also for astronomy generally," said Sasha Hinkley, associate professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, who led these observations.

Taking direct images of exoplanets is challenging because stars are so much brighter than planets, says NASA.

Located 355 light-years from Earth, HIP 65426 b is about 15 to 20 million years old, compared to our 4.5-billion-year-old Earth.

It is 100 times farther from its host star than Earth is from the Sun, so it is sufficiently distant from the star that Webb can easily separate the planet from the star in the image. But it is also more than 10,000 times fainter than its host star in the near-infrared, and a few thousand times fainter in the mid-infrared.

"Obtaining this image felt like digging for space treasure," said Aarynn Carter, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who led the analysis of the images.

"At first all I could see was light from the star, but with careful image processing I was able to remove that light and uncover the planet".

Jupiter and its moons like you've never seen them before

NASA scientists have also released new shots of the solar system's biggest planet, describing the results as "quite incredible".

The James Webb Telescope took the photos back in July, capturing unprecedented views of Jupiter’s northern and southern lights, and swirling polar haze. Jupiter's Great Red Spot, a storm big enough to swallow Earth, stands out brightly alongside countless smaller storms.

AP/NASA
James Webb Telescope's stunning image of JupiterAP/NASA

One wide-field picture is particularly dramatic, showing the faint rings around the planet, as well as two tiny moons against a glittering background of galaxies.

"We’ve never seen Jupiter like this. It’s all quite incredible," said planetary astronomer Imke de Pater, of the University of California, Berkeley, who helped lead the observations.

"We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest," she added in a statement.

The infrared images were artificially colored in blue, white, green, yellow, and orange, according to the US-French research team, to make the features stand out.

Other discoveries: How the Cartwheel Galaxy is changing

The latest images come just weeks after another batch of images captured by the James Webb team showed us the Cartwheel Galaxy in more depth, taking us another step further in our understanding of the universe by showing us what happens after two galaxies collide.

Peering through the cosmic dust created by the collision with its infrared cameras, the telescope gave us a shot of how the Cartwheel Galaxy is changing after a run-in with another smaller galaxy billions of years ago.

NASA via AP
a large pink, speckled galaxy resembling a wheel with with a small, inner oval, with dusty blue in between on the right, with two smaller spiral galaxies about the same size.NASA via AP

Scientists think that the Cartwheel Galaxy, a ringed galaxy over 500 million lightyears away from our planet which owes its name to its bright inner ring and colourful outer ring, was once part of a large spiral like the Milky Way, before another galaxy smashed through it.

The galaxy’s whole look, which reminded scientists of the wheel of a wagon, is due to that high-speed collision, according to NASA. From the centre of collision, the galaxy’s two rings have been expanding outwards, creating that rare ringed shape.

Scientists have never before been able to see clearly into the chaos of the Cartwheel Galaxy and make sense of it.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team
The mid-infrared light captured by Webb's MIRI infrared camera reveals fine details about the dusty regions and young stars within the Cartwheel Galaxy.NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Webb ERO Production Team

The Hubble Space Telescope had already peered into the galaxy, but the amount of dust surrounding the Cartwheel Galaxy prevented the telescope from observing the phenomena taking place within the galaxy.

But now, thanks to the James Webb Telescope' infrared cameras, scientists are able to look into the galaxy’s bright centre.

To do so, an image is created by combining Webb’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which are able to see through the dust and reveal wavelengths of light impossible to observe in visible light conditions.

The image obtained shows the formation of stars in the aftermath of the galaxies colliding - a process which is not yet completely understood.

NASA
This image captured by the James Webb Telescope shows the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula.NASA

The bright core at the centre of the galaxy contains hot dust, says NASA, with the brightest areas being home to gigantic young star clusters.

What you can see on the outer ring, on the other hand, is the formation of new stars.

The Cartwheel Galaxy is still going through changes and will continue to transform, promising to reveal more secrets about how galaxies evolve over time, even though it might take billions of years.

NASA and the European Space Agency's $10 billion (€10 billion) successor to the Hubble Space Telescope rocketed away at the end of last year and has been observing the cosmos in the infrared since summer.

Scientists hope to behold the dawn of the universe with Webb, peering all the way back to when the first stars and galaxies were forming 13.7 billion years ago.

The observatory is positioned 1.6 million km from Earth.