Composed of gas and dust, the pictured pillar resides in a tempestuous stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7500 light-years away in the southern constellation of Carina, as imaged in visible light by Hubble. Image credit: NASA, ESA and the Hubble SM4 ERO Team.

Ten incredible pictures that showcase astronomy’s future

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

Ethan Siegel
3 min readMar 27, 2017

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“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.

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Ethan Siegel
Starts With A Bang!

The Universe is: Expanding, cooling, and dark. It starts with a bang! #Cosmology Science writer, astrophysicist, science communicator & NASA columnist.