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  • Our galactic neighbor is producing stars at a furious rate

Our galactic neighbor is producing stars at a furious rate

Also, Japan's first photo of its lunar lander on the moon!

JWST turned its cameras onto our neighbor galaxy and photographed a stunning star-forming region.

The Large Magellanic Cloud is a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way, located just around 158,200 light years away from us. It’s one of the few galaxies visible from Earth with the unaided eye, but only in the Southern hemisphere.

Credit: ESO/Juan Carlos Muñoz Mateos, annotations by me

The brightest star-forming region you can see in our cosmic backyard, the Tarantula Nebula, is located within this galaxy, and what we’re looking at right now is sort of a younger sibling to it.

Tarantula Nebula, Credit: ESO/IDA/Danish 1.5 m/R. Gendler, C. C. Thöne, C. Féron, and J.-E. Ovaldsen

N79 in the Large Magellanic Cloud, ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, O. Nayak, M. Meixner

N79 spans about 1,630 light years, and it’s a very efficient and productive star-forming region, even moreso than the Tarantula Nebula. This photo was taken by MIRI in mid-infrared, and those wavelengths of light highlight gas and dust. You can see the filters this image was processed with here, red is longer wavelengths of light while blue is shorter wavelengths of light.

One reason this area is of interest to astronomers is that the Milky Way once produced stars at a rate similar to this molecular cloud complex, but it doesn’t anymore. The chemical composition of the Milky Way is also different than the Large Magellanic Cloud. Studying this area of N79 gives them a chance to look at what our galaxy, and other galaxies, might have been like in the early universe.

This image we’re seeing here is a cropped version, but here is the wider view of this image. To me, this is even more stunning than the closer in version.

Credit: ESA/Webb, NASA & CSA, O. Nayak, M. Meixner

One key feature of this image is the diffraction spikes you can see on the star in the center of the image. Diffraction spikes occur because of the orientation of JWST’s honeycomb-shaped primary mirror.

Credit: NASA/Desiree Stover

(You can see more on this in my in-depth video on the ins and outs of JWST’s distinctive diffraction spikes.)

But what I find really interesting isn’t the main star. It’s this other star at the bottom right of the image. You can actually see the reflection of JWST’s honeycomb shaped primary mirror surrounding the star.

Sometimes artifacts from telescopes can detract from an image, but I think it’s pretty cool to be reminded how these images are taken and everything that goes into them.

We have the first photo of Japan’s lunar lander on the moon’s surface

Good news about Japan’s moon lander, SLIM!!

One of SLIM’s objectives was to achieve a pinpoint landing — rather than being within kilometers of a landing site, it wanted to achieve a precise soft landing within 100 m of its target.

Credit: JAXA

Well, now we know that the little spacecraft achieved that goal — SLIM landed about 55 meters east of the target landing site.

Credit: JAXA

We also found out what exactly happened to the lander and why its solar cells aren’t oriented correctly. Apparently, about 50 m above the lunar surface, one of the two engines was lost. SLIM was able to compensate for the loss of this engine in real time, but that’s why the actual landing took place a little east of the original target site, because the spacecraft was a little off kilter because it was only using one engine.

First photo of SLIM on the moon — and it’s rolled onto its “nose.” Credit: JAXA

The velocity when SLIM landed was 1.4 m/s, which is well within design specifications, and confirms that the spacecraft did soft land successfully. However, because the lateral velocity (how fast it was moving horizontally across the moon’s surface) and attitude were different than expected, the spacecraft settled with the solar cells facing west. That’s not the direction the sun is coming from right now, hence why the cells are unable to generate power.

However, as I discussed in a previous video, JAXA shut down SLIM when its battery reached 12 percent in the hope that they’ll be able to revive it in a few weeks when the sun is oriented in an optimal direction.

I’ll keep you all updated as JAXA releases more news!

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