When the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) first started planning for a replacement of the iconic Hubble Space Telescope in the early 1990s, their plan was to build a space telescope that could look far, far beyond what the almighty Hubble could do. Fast forward to today, and this plan has resulted in the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). The latter has already laid claim on being the most important space telescope ever made, and reinstating this further, has captured the most detailed image ever of the Orion nebula.
Why the James Webb Telescope’s New Feat is Important
The discovery in question is largely thanks to an Early Release Science (ERS) programme for the James Webb telescope, which has over 100 scientists from across 18 countries working on a project. The latter gathers the data that is captured by the telescope, and uses the same to understand the earliest days of the universe.
The Orion nebula, meanwhile, is of utmost significance, since at just 1,350 light years away, the nebula is the closest star-forming region from Earth. In simpler words, this belt is full of star-creating gasses that is a hotspot for stars and planet formations. Studying the origins of the nebula would therefore be absolutely crucial in order to understand the conditions in the universe after the first million years since it was formed — in other words, when it was still young.
As the image shows, there is a protostar at the heart of Orion, which is surrounded by star-forming gas and dust strewn in a belt where planets would be born. The protostar is an area where the star is at its earliest stage, and is being born in its earliest years. Studying this condition could thus enable scientists to understand how our own solar system was formed, including various other regions around our solar system that could potentially host life-supporting conditions, too.
To understand the sheer size of the image, the gargantuan capture by James Webb is scaled to 40 astronomical units. In other words, one unit of the image is equal to 150 million kilometres in space — thus showcasing the expanse and brilliance of JWST.