Summer is almost over, and it’s hard to believe it’s been over a month since the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) images were first released, and seemingly everyone was ooh-ing and aah-ing over the very pretty pictures. My social media feeds are no longer buzzing about stars. But, as ever, you’d be mistaken to think a reduced social media ubiquity says much about how someone—or, some telescope—is doing. This August, JWST has been hard at work, churning out marvelous images that deserve your attention.
At the beginning of the month, JWST captured images from the Cartwheel galaxy. The galaxy, shown above, consists of two rings that resemble a wagon wheel (hence the name) and is located about 500 million light-years away from us.
While the galaxy had previously been photographed by other telescopes, including the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST’s pics are infinitely better. This is largely thanks to the camera’s ability to detect infrared light, which allows it to peer past the clouds of dust and photograph the galaxy’s spiraling spokes, young star clusters, and individual stars.
JWST isn’t just good at looking into deep space; it can also capture images of our home solar system. Earlier this week, NASA released some super JWST shots of Jupiter. “We hadn’t really expected it to be this good, to be honest,” one scientist behind the view of the gas giant said in a NASA blog post, In these pictures, Jupiter’s most notable feature––its “Great Red Spot”––is so bright with reflected sunlight that it appears to be white. Those red patches on the top and bottom are auroras (though they aren’t really that color).
The telescope has been taking so many pictures that scientists have pieced a bunch of them together to create a giant one. Called Epoch 1, the “mosaic” combines 690 individual frames from JWST’s camera. It’s the“largest image taken by the telescope to date,” explains a press release from Cosmic Evolution Early Release Science Survey, the group behind the composite photo, and covers “an area of sky about eight times as large as the JWST First Deep Field Image.” This mega-image gives scientists a better look at the never-before-seen galaxies excavated by the JWST. The rest of us can scroll around the image to feel eight times as insignificant.
And while the images aren’t necessarily as pretty (they are just a bunch of graphs), on Thursday NASA revealed the telescope had observed a giant gas planet orbiting a Sun-like star 700 light years away, the first time carbon dioxide has been detected beyond the solar system. Natalie Batalha, a professor of astronomy at the University of California at Santa Cruz and leader of the project, explained in a press release that this finding “bodes well for the detection of atmospheres on smaller, terrestrial-sized planets.” Translation: if other Earth-sized planets have Earth-like atmospheres, it’s possible that they could support Earth-like organisms. But at this point, who’s to say for sure?