The Carina Nebula is a nearby (about 7,600 ly away) star-forming region, and this image captures just a segment of it. Above the image (out of frame) are a number of hot, young stars, producing outflows that are blowing around the dust and gas, carving out a cavity. This image captures the edge of that cavity, at the boundary between the thick dust and the partially-evacuated region.
I particularly like to point out “fingers” in the dust, which so nicely show which way the stellar winds are blowing. These fingers are dust shadows behind denser regions from which stars can form.
NBC News put together a particularly nice comparison of this image with the same image taken by HST (https://www.nbcnews.com/data-graphics/compare-photos-nasas-james-webb-space-telescope-hubble-space-telescope-rcna37875). By moving the slider back and forth, you can see how the infrared observatory sees through the dust to the underlying (newly-forming!) stars. More detail is evident in the JWST image as well, due to Webb’s increased aperture. It’s a beautiful example of how observations from telescopes operating at different wavelengths can complement each other. While the registration of the two images is not exactly perfect, it’s close enough to compare subtle details between the two images. One not-so-subtle detail jumps out that could be used to spark class discussion: near the center of the JWST image is a bright yellow star with prominent diffraction spikes. Slide the slider across to see it in the HST image, and you’ll know if your students are paying attention or not…
Supporting material in the texts and online: This image provides a great opportunity to talk to students about why astronomers use telescopes that observe at different wavelengths to explore different parts of the universe. You might reference this image in the chapters on Telescopes, Star Formation, or the Interstellar Medium. Other connected material appears in:
Process of Science Assignment: Interpreting Radiation through ISM
Astronomy in Action Video: Emission and Absorption
Learning Astronomy by Doing Astronomy Workbook, Activity 22: The Stuff Between the Stars will help students interpret what they see in this image, while Activity 7: Light and Spectra will help them understand the pairing of telescope and target, and why this region is a good target for JWST