Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a vast city of billions of stars, bound up in spiral arms and a glowing core. Though we belong to the same galactic family, immense distances separate us from even the objects closest to our solar system — the next nearest stars are over four light-years away.
Telescopes have brought us visions of our distant neighbors in dazzling clarity. We've used Hubble to watch the explosive death of massive stars, observed the remnants they left behind, and witnessed newborn stars arising from clouds of gas and dust. Now Webb will use its infrared-detecting instruments to explore new regions of the Milky Way.
Webb will observe our galaxy's central, supermassive black hole; stellar nurseries where new stars are flaring to life; and tightly packed globular clusters where our galaxy's most ancient stars reside. It'll examine the gas and dust floating through space that eventually ends up inside stars, and look for dim brown dwarfs that glow with infrared light.
Webb's observations of the stars and other components of our galaxy will help astronomers clarify the inner workings of our galaxy. Not only will this build a better picture of the way our galaxy functions, it will help us define what's normal for our cosmic neighborhood — so that when we detect something out of the ordinary, we'll know it.