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Starts With A Bang

Ten incredible pictures that showcase astronomy’s future

What Hubble sees at its best is only a tease for what James Webb will deliver.

“With the Hubble telescope and all the other things that are out there, I believe something would have come through. Today, I really believe we are unique.” –Mark Goddard

A visible-light telescope can reveal incredible views of nebulae, thanks to multi-wavelength imaging and advanced camera technology.

Taken in infrared light, the image shows the dense column and the surrounding greenish-coloured gas all but disappear. Only a faint outline of the pillar remains. By penetrating the wall of gas and dust, the infrared vision of the Wide Field Camera 3 (WFC3) reveals the infant star that is probably blasting the jet. Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team.

But in order to view what happens inside, you have to go into space.

In visible light, the Horsehead nebula appears as a dark silhouette against a hydrogen-rich, light emitting background. Image credit: T.A.Rector (NOAO/AURA/NSF) and Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA/NASA).

Visible light can reveal the wispy tendrils of evaporating gas, the presence of various elements and light-blocking dust.

The Horsehead Nebula appears transparent and ethereal when seen at infrared wavelengths. The rich tapestry of the Horsehead Nebula pops out against the backdrop of Milky Way stars and distant galaxies that easily are visible in infrared light. Image credit: NASA / ESA / Hubble Heritage Team.

But to see the location of stars and the density of the heated, star-forming material, an infrared telescope is necessary.

The star-forming region NGC 2174 showcases the nebulosity, the neutral matter and the presence of external elements as the gas evaporates. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and J. Hester.

Hubble provides the best visible light views, achieving better resolution and identifying more detail than any other observatory.

Infrared light penetrates more dust and gas than visible light, allowing details to become visible. A jet of material from a newly forming star is visible in one of the pillars, just above and left of center in the infrared image. Background galaxies are also visible. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA), and J. Hester.

But thanks to the infrared views of the Wide Field Camera 3, stars, gas globules and even external, background galaxies can be revealed.

The largest stellar nursery in the local group, 30 Doradus in the Tarantula Nebula, has the most massive stars thus far known to humanity. Image credit: NASA, ESA, F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O’Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee.

Even inside the largest, most spectacular star-forming regions, infrared views can reveal stars that would otherwise be obscured by neutral atoms.

The massive stellar grouping R136, at right, contains stars up to 260 times the mass of the Sun. Many more details about the nebula’s interior are available in the infrared. Image credit: NASA, ESA, F. Paresce (INAF-IASF, Bologna, Italy), R. O’Connell (University of Virginia, Charlottesville), and the Wide Field Camera 3 Science Oversight Committee.

Red giant stars shine brightest of all in the infrared, as hotter, more massive stars emit predominantly blue light.

The Pillars of Creation, approximately 5 light years tall, are forming some of the galaxy’s newest stars. Yet most of them are unable to be seen in visible light. Image credit: NASA, ESA, and the Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA).

Even the Pillars of Creation, breathtakingly imaged by Hubble, displays stars still in the process of forming in the infrared.

The stars within and beyond the Pillars of Creation are revealed in the infrared. While Hubble extends its view out to 1.6 microns, more than twice the limit of visible light, James Webb will go out to 30 microns: nearly 20 times as far again. Image credit: NASA, ESA/Hubble and the Hubble Heritage Team.

When the James Webb Space Telescope launches next year, it will look farther and deeper into the infrared than any observatory ever has, uncovering secrets hiding in the remote Universe.

Mostly Mute Monday tells the story of an astronomical phenomenon, object or story in pictures, visuals and no more than 200 words.

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