The universe as never seen before: this week in space

Space telescopes provide stunning images of the universe, thanks to a combination of advanced technologies and observations made outside the constraints imposed by our atmosphere. However, due to physical limitations, each telescope can only observe a specific type of electromagnetic radiation, or a relatively narrow range of it, thus limiting our ability to gather all the information.

Scientists at NASA, the US space agency, have now created composite images from data from several telescopes, led by the James Webb Space Telescope, which looks primarily at infrared radiation, and the Chandra Space Telescope, which looks at X-rays. Image processing includes converting different ranges of radiation into colors of visible light, allowing us to appreciate the wealth of information these objects present.

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The Eagle NebulaThe Eagle Nebula

The Eagle Nebula

(Photo courtesy)

The images also incorporate data from other space telescopes, such as Hubble and Spitzer, and powerful ground-based telescopes. The result is a collection of particularly stunning and unprecedentedly detailed images that capture some of the most magnificent cosmic landscapes our universe has to offer. Clicking on the images will reveal their full size version.

The Eagle Nebula, officially known as M16 or NGC 6611, is about 5,700 light-years away from us. This region is a hotbed for new star formation, and the nebula earned the nickname “Pillars of Creation” following a famous photo taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The James Webb images reveal clouds of dust and gas, while Chandra’s contributions to the image are young X-ray-emitting stars. In this image, the X-ray wavelengths have been converted to red and blue, while the infrared wavelengths have been converted to red, green and blue.

The galaxy M74, or NGC 628, is a spiral galaxy located about 30 million light-years from us. It is also called the Phantom Galaxy (or Phantom), due to its weak radiation, which is difficult to observe with smaller telescopes. Here too the Chandra telescope reveals the energetically active areas, displayed in purple, while the James Webb telescope reveals the dust and gases, colored in green, yellow, red and magenta blue. In addition, the components photographed in visible light by the Hubble telescope, including the stars and streaks of gas appear here in blue and orange.

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Galaxy M74Galaxy M74

Galaxy M74

(Photo courtesy)

The galaxy NGC 1672, located about 50 million light years from us, is an elongated spiral galaxy. From our vantage point, its center does not appear circular, but rather takes the form of a line or rod. The images provided by the Chandra space telescope, depicted in purple, reveal the presence of heavy objects such as neutron stars or black holes, which absorb material from their surroundings. The rapid movement of this material emits X-rays. Images from the James Webb Space Telescope and the Hubble Space Telescope show the dust and gas between stars, depicted in shades of red, green and blue.

This star cluster is located in the Small Magellanic Cloud, one of the closest galaxies to the Milky Way, about 200 thousand light years from us. Here, images from the James Webb Telescope, depicted in red, green, and blue, show the pillars and arcs of gas from which protostars form around young stars. The images of Chandra, especially the purple spot on the left, reveal the remnants of a supernova, the explosion of a large star. Here, too, data from images taken by Hubble, Spitzer and ground-based telescopes are combined.

In another study involving the James Webb Space Telescope, researchers are trying to find out what the first stars in the universe, formed shortly after the Big Bang, might have looked like.

The team, led by Corinne Charbonnel of the University of Geneva, turned their telescope on one of the oldest galaxies discovered so far, GN-z11. Located about 13.3 billion light years from us, we observe it today as it existed about 440 million years after the Big Bang.

The James Webb Space Telescope’s spectrometer facilitates the analysis of its luminous composition, thus helping to identify its constituent materials. The observations revealed an unusually high concentration of neon in this galaxy, with a nitrogen-to-oxygen ratio in its interstellar space that is four times greater than that found in our environment.

A possible explanation for such a quantitative ratio between nitrogen and oxygen could be the existence of giant stars, 10,000 times larger than our sun. The enormous temperature and pressure in the core of such stars would drive hydrogen fusion along a path in which more nitrogen and less oxygen would be produced, unlike the processes we know today in the cores of stars.

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There may have been huge stars there.  Surroundings of the ancient galaxy GN-z11 There may have been huge stars there.  Surroundings of the ancient galaxy GN-z11

There may have been huge stars there. Surroundings of the ancient galaxy GN-z11

(Photo: Hubble Space Telescope | Source: NASA, ESA, P. Oesch (Yale University), G. Brammer (STScI), P. van Dokkum (Yale University) and G. Illingworth (University of California, Santa Cruz))

Stars with such a large mass are expected to survive for a relatively short time. If they existed, they probably exploded before the light currently reaching us from this distant galaxy began its journey towards us.

However, the researchers believe that the elements these giant stars scattered throughout their collapse remained in the area and were incorporated into the stars that subsequently formed from them. Thus, the chemical makeup of today’s galaxy can attest to the existence of those very early and massive suns.

“The strong presence of nitrogen can only be explained by the burning of hydrogen at extremely high temperatures, which only the core of supermassive stars can reach, as demonstrated by models by a Master’s student in our team,” explained Charbonnel.

The International Space Station is currently home to 11 crew members, following the arrival of the second private mission, AX-2, to the station earlier this week. The team includes four private astronauts, including the first two Saudi Arabian representatives to ever be on the station.

The private mission commander, Peggy Whitson, who currently works for Axiom, is the most experienced astronaut on the expanded team on the station. This is her fourth visit to the International Space Station, and in the previous three she has logged 665 days in space, more than any other American astronaut.

The privately owned team joined the seven regular crew members currently stationed there: three Americans, three Russians and a representative from the United Arab Emirates.

The private team’s arrival aboard SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft brought the total number of spacecraft currently docked to the station to four, including two Dragon spacecraft.

Next week, that number is expected to rise to five, with the docking of an unmanned Russian resupply spacecraft, scheduled for launch on Wednesday. The private team is expected to remain on the station for ten days until the end of next week and conduct numerous experiments. These include the Israeli experiment ILAN-ES, designed to photograph “sprites” and other atmospheric phenomena that occur above the clouds during thunderstorms.

Three weeks ago, we reported here on the bankruptcy of Virgin Orbit, a company that developed a service for launching small satellites on a rocket launched from a Boeing 747. Its first attempt in January this year ended in a failure, when the launch missile crashed, along with the nine satellites it was carrying. Company executives hoped for a bailout buyer, but those hopes were dashed as several companies won bids to buy its assets.

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Not only is the station full, but the parking lot is also crowded.  The seven regular crew members with the four private mission guestsNot only is the station full, but the parking lot is also crowded.  The seven regular crew members with the four private mission guests

Not only is the station full, but the parking lot is also crowded. The seven regular crew members with the four private mission guests

(Photo: NASA TV)

Rocket Lab, a rocket company, will pay $16 million for Virgin’s facilities in California to expand its adjacent manufacturing area. Another company, Stratolaunch, is acquiring the Boeing plane for $17 million. A third company, Launcher, will pay about $3 million for Virgin Orbit’s lease rights to a test site in California’s Mojave Desert, as well as existing equipment. These sales will cover some of the debt the company has left behind as it abandons the business model of launching satellites from an aircraft.


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