The Webb's year of cosmic wonder. A new image celebrates the first anniversary of the most powerful observatory ever sent into space.

By now, perhaps, we should be getting used to unreal images of the cosmos made with the James Webb Space Telescope.

But a year after NASA released the cosmic observatory's first imagery, the space agency has dropped yet another breathtaking snapshot of our universe.

The image from July 12 was Rho Ophiuchi, the closest nursery of infant stars in our cosmic backyard. Located a mere 390 light years away from Earth, this cloud complex is chock-full of stellar goodness.

Around 50 stars with masses comparable to that of our sun are sprinkled in white, some fully formed and shining bright, others still hidden behind dark, dense regions of interstellar dust. [Zoom in closer and you'll even find a faint galaxy or two.]

Near the center of the image is a mature star called S1, its starlight illuminating the wispy yellow nebula around it.Toward the upper right are streaming red jets of molecular hydrogen, material that gets spewed out on either side of forming protostars.

Black shadows near these regions  are accretion disks of swirling gas and dust - some of which could be in the process of creating planetary systems.

The awe the image inspires is comparable to researchers' feelings about the Webb's first year of science.

'' As an astronomer that lives and breathes this mission, I'm having to work really hard to keep up  -there are so many discoveries,'' said Jane Rigby, the senior project scientist for the telescope at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

She finds it fitting that the customary gift for one -year anniversaries is paper, because that's exactly what researchers using the telescope have been churning out for the past year : scientific papers.

The observatory was launched on Christmas Day in 2021, and scientists spent the next six months prepping the telescope for action : unfolding its sun shield and the honeycomb-like array of golden mirrors, then running tests of the four instruments used to observe the cosmos.

When it was ready, the Webb embarked on its journey to peer into the depths of the universe.

The telescope's agenda has been jampacked ever since. It has checked out asteroids, quasars, exoplanets and other cosmic phenomenon galore.For Dr. Rigby, one of the most gratifying accomplishments of the past year is the way the the mission has delivered on its promise to reveal the earliest moments of cosmic time.

'' That was the elevator pitch : We're going to show you the baby pictures of the universe,'' she said.

Indeed it has. Before the Webb, astronomers knew of only a small handful of candidate galaxies that existed in the first billion years after Big Bang.

Within the past year, hundreds of them - bigger and brighter than expected, packed with forming stars swirling around supermassive black holes - have been confirmed.

'' The data from the telescope is better than we promised,'' Dr. Rigby said.'' It's overperformed in almost every way.''

Already, the telescope's schedule for the next year is set, with roughly 5,000 hours of prime observing time for a suit of projects related to galactic formations, stellar chemistry, the behavior black holes, the large-scale structure of our universe and more.

Many of these projects - more ambitious than last year's, now that scientists know what the telescope can do - are dedicated to following up on Webb's own discoveries.

Though the telescope is operated by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, observers from around the globe were selected to use it.

'' This is the telescope for humanity, and we want the best ideas from whole world,'' Dr. Rigby said.'' That's how we're doing things.''

The World Students Society thanks Katrina Miller.


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