TechJames Webb Space Telescope: A year of astronomical revelations from Pandora's Cluster to Saturn's rings

James Webb Space Telescope: A year of astronomical revelations from Pandora's Cluster to Saturn's rings

Two years ago, the James Webb Space Telescope began its mission.
Two years ago, the James Webb Space Telescope began its mission.
Images source: © Adobe Stock
10:18 AM EST, December 25, 2023

The James Webb Space Telescope's foremost objective is advancing our understanding of the universe. It employs a variety of investigative tools, with the most critical being the optical system that operates in the infrared range. Thanks to this feature, it can study objects that aren't visible in conventional light.

Unveiling Pandora's Cluster

Over the span ofone and a half years, the Webb Telescope has focused on distant exoplanets and galaxies, witnessing the birth and death of stars, revealing a fascinating segment of the universe. This year, the telescope captured the image of Pandora's Cluster, a system of four galaxies that recently collided.

We observe them as if through a microscopic lens, even though Pandora's Cluster is a colossal entity. The diameter of this conglomeration of galaxies is a staggering approximately 307 million light years. To put it into perspective, our home, the Milky Way, while vast in its own right, only measures about 87 million light years in diameter.

Abell 2744 or Pandora's Cluster. The image was published on February 15, 2023.
Abell 2744 or Pandora's Cluster. The image was published on February 15, 2023.© ESA | Space Telescope Science Institute Office of Public Outreach

The Rho Ophiuchi Cloud

The Webb Telescope revealed a seemingly boundless universe nurturing life. Just 422 light years away from Earth resides the Rho Ophiuchi cloud, bursting with young stars.

This relatively small region of star formation marked the JWST's first anniversary of observations. This scene features newborn stars whose masses are comparable to that of our Sun. Additionally, numerous objects are tracked forming circumstellar disks, signifying the emergence of new planetary systems.

Unearthing a Wolf-Rayet Star

The space vistas relayed by the Webb Telescope showcased some truly malevolent phenomena. Amid this category, the dying Wolf-Rayet star seemed inescapably ominous.

Rho Ophiuchi Cloud. Image published July 12, 2023.
Rho Ophiuchi Cloud. Image published July 12, 2023.© ESA | JWST

Indigenous to the Milky Way, this star is on a literal path to extinction. Its surface temperatures can surge to 20 to 40 times that of the Sun, and its core is virtually stripped of hydrogen. In several hundred thousand years, all that will remain of it will be cosmic dust.

An intimate look at Saturn

Although the Webb telescope primarily studies exoplanets, it has also delighted us with impressive observations within our Solar System. The clarity brought forth by the telescope brought us unprecedented views of Saturn, its ring system, and its many satellites.

Wolf-Rayet star. Image published on March 14, 2023.
Wolf-Rayet star. Image published on March 14, 2023.© ESA | Space Telescope Science Institute Office of Public Outreach

The latest image of Saturn lays bare intricate details of its ring system. Also visible in the frame are moons Dione, Enceladus, and Tethys. Even Saturn's atmosphere presented a few surprises with large, dark, and scattered formations appearing in the northern hemisphere, demonstrating that Saturn is not as uniformly striped as we previously believed.

Saturn. Image published July 8, 2023.
Saturn. Image published July 8, 2023.© ESA | Space Telescope Science Institute Office of Public Outreach
Related content