NASA's James Webb telescope captures a Cosmic Tarantula

Shawn Knight

Posts: 14,461   +171
Staff member
The big picture: NASA has shared new imagery captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, this time illustrating a stellar nursery spanning 340 light-years across. The 30 Doradus, more commonly known as the Tarantula Nebula, is located 161,000 light-years from Earth in the Large Magellanic Cloud galaxy. It was first observed by Nicolas-Louis de Lacaille in the 1750s during an expedition to the Cape of Good Hope.

It is the largest and brightest star-form region in the Local Group, a collection of "nearby" galaxies that also includes the Milky Way.

Astronomers pointed three of Webb's cutting-edge instruments at the Tarantula Nebula. Webb's Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) highlights tens of thousands of never-before-seen young stars that had been previously hidden by cosmic dust. Massive young stars at the center of the nebula have carved out a hollow region thanks to their blistering radiation. The scattered red stars are those that have yet to emerge from their dusty cocoon.

The image also features Webb's diffraction spike pattern, an artifact of the telescope's structure.

Switching to Webb's Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) provides a different look thanks to its longer wavelengths. Here, the cooler gas and dust really shine, and hydrocarbons light up the clouds in purple and blue. The mid-infrared light with its longer wavelengths is able to penetrate the dust clouds, revealing an environment that has been previously unseen.

The Tarantula Nebula is an especially interesting target for astronomers as it has a similar type of chemical composition to the star-forming regions observed at the universe's "cosmic noon," a period of peak star formation when the universe was just a few billion years old. Here in the Milky Way, star formation is not as fierce and the chemical composition is different, so we turn to the Tarantula as a nearby example.

NASA has published full-resolution examples of the Tarantula Nebula on its website for print or display. At 140MB more than 14,500 pixels wide, there is plenty to keep astronomy aficionados and casual observers alike engaged for hours.

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RudyBob

Posts: 826   +834
I like the pictures and the research. My question is aren't researchers going to find the same thing(s) wherever they look? Such as "chemical composition". I'm asking because I don't know. All these pictures are enhanced. What happens when a different enhancement technique is employed?
 

Uncle Al

Posts: 9,342   +8,536
I understand the enhancement is according to the chemical found, ie: All carbon will be one color while all nitrogen will be another and those colors will remain the same for each photo.....
 

captaincranky

Posts: 19,166   +8,315
I like the pictures and the research. My question is aren't researchers going to find the same thing(s) wherever they look? Such as "chemical composition". I'm asking because I don't know. All these pictures are enhanced. What happens when a different enhancement technique is employed?
OK, first you have to take into consideration that what humans consider, "visible light", is actually a fairly narrow portion of the full spectrum. Infrared and ultra violet extend well beyond our limit of vision.

Recreational, (and professional) photographers with cameras modified to extend the sensor's range beyond the visible spectrum, employ a technique called "channel swapping", to assign an invisible, (to humans) portion of the spectrum, to either the red, blue, or green primary visible colors. And so it is with Webb. The net result with terrestrial photography is you can make the sky pretty much any color your heart desires. You can also modify color directly in the camera through the use of various different filters over the lens at the time of exposure.

As for whether you will find, "the same elements and chemical compositions wherever you look", this is true, but only to a certain degree. The elemental distribution will vary widely, largely depending on a star's age and mass. For example, if you find a high percentage of silicon in a star, that sucker is pretty much ready to blow. If you find mostly hydrogen, it was recently born.