This article was originally published on Conversation (Opens in a new tab). Post contributed this article to Space.com Expert Voices: Editorial and Insights (Opens in a new tab).
Silas Lecock (Opens in a new tab)Professor of Astronomy, UMass Lowell
The James Webb Space Telescope team has They released the first scientific quality photos (Opens in a new tab) of the new telescope. It contains the oldest galaxies ever seen by human eyes, evidence of water on a planet 1,000 light years away and incredible details showing the birth and death of stars. Webb’s purpose is to explore the origins of the universe, galaxies, stars, and life, and the five images released on July 12, 2022, fulfill that promise.
Once a set of tools on board it’s all Cool and running smoothly (Opens in a new tab), astronomers wasted no time running Webb. Each of the first images contains enough data to produce significant scientific results on its own.
Webb is designed for Collecting light across the red to mid-infrared spectrum (Opens in a new tab) The wavelengths of light that are blocked by the Earth’s atmosphere. Thanks to its giant mirror and solar shades that block the infrared rays emitted by the Sun, Earth and Moon, Webb can produce images of a sharpness never before seen by any other telescope.
the commotion between Professional astronomers like me (Opens in a new tab) He’s been an electrician since Webb’s team members shared tantalizing test photos. And the real photos are better than anyone could have hoped for. During the presentation where the first images were released, Webb Project scientist Jane Rigby commented (Opens in a new tab), “For Webb, there is no empty sky; and everywhere he looks he sees distant galaxies.” Most of those galaxies were not yet visible.
Ancient galaxies and the early universe
It was the first web image the world saw of a galactic crowd known to astronomers as SMEX 0723 (Opens in a new tab). It is located in the sky of the Southern Hemisphere and is 5.12 billion light years from Earth.
The detail of the thousands of individual galaxies in the image is amazing. It’s like the universe in high definition, and I encourage you to look at full resolution picture (Opens in a new tab) and zoom in to really appreciate the details.
big white galaxies In the middle of the image it belongs to the cluster and is similar in age to the Sun and the Earth. Clustered galaxies are surrounded and punctuated by distant galaxies, but they extend into dizzying arcs as if seen through a magnifying glass. This is exactly what happens. The background galaxies are very far from Earth but appear magnified, as their light is bent toward Earth by the gravity of the much closer cluster.
In the background, you can see faint red galaxies scattered like rubies across the sky. Even those galaxies are even further away. By measuring the exact properties of their light, astronomers can tell that they formed more than 13 billion years ago and even determine the abundances of various elements in these early galaxies.
Not only does Webb produce incredibly sharp images, but it does so easily when compared to its predecessor, and Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in 1990. As Rigby quipped, “…Hubble Extremely Deep Field took two weeks of exposure; Webb went deep before breakfast.” Once Webb makes longer observations that allow it to collect more light from fainter stars or galaxies, astronomers will be able to see some of the first stars and galaxies that formed right after that. the big explosion.
Understanding planets around other stars
The second detection was not an image but a spectrum – the breakdown of the strength of light at different wavelengths.
Webb pointed his mirror to extrasolar planet (Opens in a new tab) WASP 96-B – a hot gas giant planet orbiting a star about 1,000 light-years from Earth – as the planet passed in front of its parent star. During this transit, a portion of the star’s light was filtered through the planet’s atmosphere and left a “chemical fingerprint” in the unique spectrum of light. Details of this fingerprint strongly suggest the presence of water vapor, clouds, and fog in the atmosphere of WASP 96-B.
While Webb moves to watch The smallest planets that could harbor life (Opens in a new tab)Astronomers expect to discover fingerprints of oxygen, nitrogen, ammonia, and carbon in the form of methane and other hydrocarbons. The goal is to find the biosignatures of life – the chemistry that would indicate the modification of the atmosphere by living organisms.
The technical challenge to doing this type of observation, called transient spectroscopy, is huge, and this initial result barely scratches the surface of the spectrum’s scientific content.
Galactic dances and the lives of stars
The last three images showed the incredible resolution of Webb’s optics as the telescope explored birth and death stars.
Webb’s ability to capture light in the mid-infrared range allows his cameras to cut through dense clouds of dust and gas. This ability helped Webb capture Amazing details about the Carina Nebula (Opens in a new tab) Where stars are born.
Webb is also an excellent fit for studying the end of a star’s life. As stars age, they can spew out their outer layers and form nebulae like staggering The Southern Ring Nebula, photographed by Webb (Opens in a new tab). The image revealed unprecedented detail of successive waves of matter ejected by the dying centrifuge. While Hubble was unable to see through the expanding cloud of dust and debris, Webb provided the first look at the binary star system that formed the nebula.
The last photo from the upcoming Webb party Show Stefan’s quintet (Opens in a new tab), a group of five galaxies 300 million light-years from Earth, interacting in a cosmic dance. Thanks to the complementary set of instruments on board Webb, the telescope can simultaneously capture the details of individual stars in these galaxies, see the cold dust and gases that fuel star formation within these galaxies, and most importantly, obscure the stars, gas and dust in order to see the material orbiting the supermassive. Black hole At the center of a galaxy.
Webb also captured data on the spectra of hundreds of individual star-forming regions in the pentagram, which will take months to analyze and study.
Webb is the result of 25 years of work done by thousands of scientists, engineers and administrators belonging to an international collaboration of space agencies, companies, research centers and universities around the world. John Mather, Webb Project Leader, Describe the journey emotionally (Opens in a new tab): “That was hard. It’s hard to say how hard it was. There were so many ways he could have gone wrong.”
But it didn’t go wrong. It all came together, and now humanity’s greatest space telescope is open for business.
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