With the James Webb Telescope, the depths of space are getting closer

The James Webb Space Telescope caused a sensation shortly after its launch. Most recently, sulfur dioxide was discovered for the first time on an exoplanet using his recordings. And James Webb is also breathing new life into a classic of astronomy: the space telescope recently made a new image of the “nursery for stars”, which has already become world-famous through Hubble images. ÖAW space researcher Luca Fossati explains what makes the new recordings so valuable.

“The Pillars of Creation is a very well-known image because the clouds of dust and molecules seen on it look very impressive. A very large number of new stars are forming in the pillars,” Fossati describes the new image of the finger-shaped structures made of gas and dust, which are now much easier to recognize than in the old Hubble telescope images.

“The Webb telescope collects light in the infrared range, which can at least partially penetrate the dust of the pillars. Therefore, structures and stars can be seen in the images that have remained hidden from Hubble,” says Fossati, who heads the Exoplanets research group at the Grazer Institute for Space Research of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (ÖAW) directs.


The pillars are far from Earth, the distance is about 7,000 light-years. The expansion of the fingers is correspondingly enormous. “Each little red dot in the image is roughly the size of our solar system. The finger structures are made of material thrown into space when extremely massive stars exploded. In order to create these enormous structures, many of these giant stars must have exploded in a few million years,” says Fossati.

The exploding stars passed their proper motion to the ejected material. The interaction of this uniformly accelerated material with interstellar gas resulted in the impressive, irregular finger structures.

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Hundreds to thousands of stars can be seen in the Webb images. Young stars appear as red fluffy areas in the image. “We see many stars here that are just beginning to form. This birthing process is usually not easy to observe. With the James Webb Telescope we can measure individual light spectra and collect new data on star formation,” says Fossati.

Because the James Webb telescope operates mainly in the infrared range, the images are subsequently colored to enable a more impressive presentation of the observed objects. “The colors will be added later. Red stands for cold, blue and white for hot,” explains Fossati.

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