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James Webb’s incredible video zooming through space to Southern Ring Nebula

A fascinating new video offers viewers the chance to peer deep into the universe, as NASA’s super space telescope zooms in on a dying star.

The footage reveals how the James Webb Space Telescope captures dazzling, unprecedented images of the cosmos by gazing back in time towards the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago.

The public is invited to ‘step on board for the ride’, as Webb streaks towards a planetary nebula about 2,500 light-years away from Earth, known as the Southern Ring Nebula. 

Despite being called a ‘planetary nebula’, it actually has nothing to do with planets. 

Instead it is a giant expanding sphere of gas and dust that has been lit up by a dying star at its heart.

Cloaked in dust, the star has been ejecting rings of material for thousands of years in all directions. 

This is because, as stars age, they change the way they make energy and dispatch with their outer layers, before energising the same material when they get very hot again.

In a nutshell, as well as looking at how the first stars were born, Webb will also catalogue how they die.

Fascinating: New video offers viewers the chance to peer deep into the universe as NASA’s super space telescope zooms in on a dying star. By ‘stepping on board for the ride’, the public can watch as Webb snaps an image of the Southern Ring Nebula 2,500 light-years from Earth

Explained: Despite being called a 'planetary nebula', it actually has nothing to do with planets. Instead it is a giant expanding sphere of gas and dust lit up by a dying star at its heart

Explained: Despite being called a ‘planetary nebula’, it actually has nothing to do with planets. Instead it is a giant expanding sphere of gas and dust lit up by a dying star at its heart 

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WEBB AND HUBBLE? 

NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, as the two will work in tandem for a while.

That’s because they look at stars and galaxies in different ways. 

Hubble studies the universe predominantly at optical, or visible, wavelengths, which is the same type of light we detect with our eyes.

Webb, on the other hand, is set up to specifically look in the infrared, which is invisible to our eyes but allows it to identify the glow from the most distant objects in the universe.

It works in much the same way night vision goggles use thermal imaging technology to capture infrared light.

The image was one of five striking pictures released by NASA last week as part of the first set of full-colour images taken by the new $10 billion (£7.4 billion) observatory.

Others included an unprecedented look at a ‘stellar nursery’ and a ‘cosmic dance’ between a group of galaxies, while Webb also discovered hints of water vapour in the atmosphere of a remote exoplanet.

It captured the Southern Ring Nebula, Stephan’s Quintet, Carina Nebula, a spectrum of exoplanet WASP-96 b and a galaxy cluster known as SMACS 0723.

The latter was seen as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago, although there were many more galaxies in front of and behind the cluster, including light from one which travelled for 13.1 billion years before Webb’s mirrors captured it.

Webb’s first images were just the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of what the observatory is expected to accomplish over the next 20 years — which could include capturing the very first stars to shine, detecting habitable planets in far-away galaxies and peering back in time to within 100-200 million years of the Big Bang.

What has astronomers most excited, however — apart from the prospect of witnessing the dawn of the universe more than 13.5 billion years ago — is the unknowns that Webb could discover, just like its predecessor Hubble.

The iconic space telescope, launched in 1990, helped to detect dark energy, as well as providing superlative images of the cosmos that included the Pillars of Creation — one of the most iconic images in astronomy.

Among the most important scientific tools ever built, Hubble has made over 1.5 million observations of more than 43,500 celestial objects and helped publish some 18,000 scientific papers.

It has contributed to a number of major discoveries in astronomy, including the observation that the observed expansion of the universe was accelerating. 

Two cameras aboard Webb captured this planetary nebula, known as the Southern Ring Nebula. One image was taken in the near-infrared (left) and another in the mid-infrared (right)

Two cameras aboard Webb captured this planetary nebula, known as the Southern Ring Nebula. One image was taken in the near-infrared (left) and another in the mid-infrared (right)

Webb, which was launched on December 25 last year, will explore the universe in the infrared spectrum, allowing it to gaze through clouds of gas and dust where stars are being born

Webb, which was launched on December 25 last year, will explore the universe in the infrared spectrum, allowing it to gaze through clouds of gas and dust where stars are being born

Webb, however, is 100 times more powerful than astronomy’s godfather of space telescopes and can peer much deeper into space.

Hubble studies the universe predominantly at ultraviolet and optical, or visible, wavelengths, which is the same type of light we detect with our eyes.

Webb, on the other hand, is set up to specifically look in the infrared, which is invisible to our eyes but allows it to identify the glow from the most distant objects in the universe.

It works in much the same way night vision goggles use thermal imaging technology to capture infrared light.

Because the universe is expanding, just about all of the galaxies that we see from Earth are moving away from us. This means that to us, their light appears to have a longer wavelength, or a redshift.

For very distant objects, this red shift is so large that they can only be observed in the infrared spectrum, which is where Webb comes in, while Hubble focuses on ultraviolet light.

For this reason, the two will work in tandem for a while so that scientists can analyse the data provided by both to help advance our knowledge of the cosmos and how humans first came to be.

Webb began development in 1996 and was originally envisaged to launch in 2007, but a major redesign in 2005 put this back and a series of further delays led to it eventually making it to orbit at the end of last year.

THE JAMES WEBB TELESCOPE

The James Webb telescope has been described as a ‘time machine’ that could help unravel the secrets of our universe.

The telescope will be used to look back to the first galaxies born in the early universe more than 13.5 billion years ago, and observe the sources of stars, exoplanets, and even the moons and planets of our solar system.

The vast telescope, which has already cost more than $7 billion (£5 billion), is considered a successor to the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope

The James Webb Telescope and most of its instruments have an operating temperature of roughly 40 Kelvin – about minus 387 Fahrenheit (minus 233 Celsius).

It is the world’s biggest and most powerful orbital space telescope, capable of peering back 100-200 million years after the Big Bang.

The orbiting infrared observatory is designed to be about 100 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA likes to think of James Webb as a successor to Hubble rather than a replacement, as the two will work in tandem for a while. 

The Hubble telescope was launched on April 24, 1990, via the space shuttle Discovery from Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

It circles the Earth at a speed of about 17,000mph (27,300kph) in low Earth orbit at about 340 miles in altitude. 

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