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James Webb: Nasa space telescope delivers spectacular pictures

Stunning images of a “stellar nursery” and a “cosmic dance” have been acquired by Nasa’s new $10bn space telescope.

The two pictures, and others, were presented to the world on Tuesday to mark the James Webb observatory’s readiness to begin science operations.

Viewed as the successor to the famous Hubble telescope, Webb is expected to be a dominant force for discovery for at least the next 20 years.

The new observatory is joint project of the US, European and Canadian space agencies.

It has been specially tuned to see the sky in the infrared – that’s light at longer wavelengths than can be sensed by our eyes.

This will give it the ability to look deeper into the Universe than its predecessor and, as a consequence, detect events occurring further back in time – more than 13.5 billion years ago.

Astronomers will also use its more advanced technologies to study the atmospheres of planets in our Milky Way Galaxy in the hope that signs of life might be detected.

The initial batch of images are just a taster of what is to come, says Prof Gillian Wright, the British researcher who’s co-led one of Webb’s four infrared instruments.

“Whenever you look at the sky in a new way, you see things that you didn’t expect,” the director of the UK Astronomy Technology Centre told BBC News.

“The fact that these new data are so good, that they’re of such good quality, that they’ve been obtained in just a few hours of observations – that’s telling you that the discoveries are just sitting out there waiting to be made.”

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