January 27, 2023

Raven Tribune

Complete News World

How the James Webb Space Telescope Changed Astronomy This Year: NPR

The James Webb Space Telescope was launched on December 25, 2021. Its first images — like this one of the Carina Nebula — startled researchers.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI


Hide caption

Switch caption

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

The James Webb Space Telescope was launched on December 25, 2021. Its first images — like this one of the Carina Nebula — startled researchers.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

A year ago, the James Webb Space Telescope began its journey through space.

“JWST launched on Christmas Day, and then it was a gift that took six months to get rid of,” said Jane Rigby, a NASA astronomer and operations project scientist.

The Pillars of Creation were first imaged by Hubble in 1995. A web image reveals countless newly formed stars twinkling among pillars of gas and dust.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI


Hide caption

Switch caption

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

The Pillars of Creation were first imaged by Hubble in 1995. A web image reveals countless newly formed stars twinkling among pillars of gas and dust.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

After an initial calibration period, the telescope began collecting data. The first results astounded astronomers.

“I downloaded the data, I’m sitting in my pajamas… You know, it’s a pandemic, we’re all working from home,” said Rigby. “I pulled that data out, and just started browsing through it, pouring through it. And it was so beautiful.”

Only five months into its science mission, the telescope is already transforming astronomy. Telescope tools have allowed him to capture previously unseen planets, stars and galaxies, both near and far.

NPR spoke with three astronomers in various astronomy disciplines about how JWST is advancing research in their area of ​​expertise. They all agree that the JWST has been a game-changer, and that there is still a lot of groundbreaking research to come.

“Loop systems just pop off, and they’re great”

Heidi Hamill is a planetary astronomer and interdisciplinary scientist on the JWST Project. She joined the team in 2002 because she wanted to study the planet Neptune.

In September, JWST trained its mirrors on the ice giant.

“When I first saw the image on the computer screen, I was very emotional,” said Hamill. “First I started crying, and then I started screaming and calling all my relatives to come to this photo!”

This is the clearest image of Neptune’s rings in decades, taken by JWST. Observed here at near-infrared wavelengths, Neptune appears ghostly white instead of blue.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI


Hide caption

Switch caption

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

This is the clearest image of Neptune’s rings in decades, taken by JWST. Observed here at near-infrared wavelengths, Neptune appears ghostly white instead of blue.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

Before JWST, Hamill said, astronomers had never clearly observed Neptune’s ring system. The Voyager spacecraft flew by Neptune in 1989, but only managed to capture the brightest parts of the planet’s rings.

JWST instruments detected loops with unparalleled clarity.

“Boom! Loop Systems come right out, and it’s great,” said Hamill.

Like stepping out of virtual reality into the real world.

Outside our solar system, the JWST has also helped astronomers monitor the oldest and most distant galaxies known.

“I’ve been looking at simulating data, trying to mimic what JWST would see, for many years now. So when I first saw the data, it was like stepping out of virtual reality and into the real world,” said Brant Robertson, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Michigan. California, Santa Cruz.

Robertson is one of the team of researchers who discovered the oldest galaxies ever observed. JWST’s instruments allowed his team to identify galaxies up to 13.4 billion years old–galaxies that would have formed less than 400 million years after the Big Bang, a very small fraction of the age of the universe.

Hundreds of galaxies are visible in this image, which combines near-infrared colors captured by the Webb telescope with those from Hubble.

NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency, and a. Pagan (STScI), and R Jansen (ASU)

“By finding these very early galaxies, we can learn something about our own history, about the history of the universe in general, but also about our home specifically,” said Robertson.

While older telescopes like the Hubble gave astronomers a glimpse of what was out there, Robertson said, the JWST has broadened the type of science that is possible.

“It’s like opening a book you’ve wanted to know the end of for so long but put off reading that concluding paragraph,” Robertson said, “and then finally seeing the whole story revealed to you.”

“Pretty much everything we do that wasn’t possible before this telescope.”

Jane Rigby, operations project scientist at JWST, also uses the telescope to study distant galaxies.

A naturally occurring phenomenon called gravitational lensing amplifies the light from the galaxies Rigby monitors — combining that with JWST, she was able to cut through cosmic dust to study how stars form in these galaxies.

Webb takes a picture of the protostar, the beginning of a new star. The “hourglass” of dust and gas clouds can only be seen in infrared light, the wavelengths that Webb specializes in.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI


Hide caption

Switch caption

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

“Not everything we do was possible before this telescope,” Rigby said.

Rigby said the Hubble instruments have not been able to see the dust that obscures these galaxies. Furthermore, JWST’s instruments allow it to study the physical makeup of these galaxies through spectroscopy, a technique commonly used by astronomers to determine the chemical composition of objects in space.

“We’re studying where stars form in these lensing galaxies in ways that are laughably not possible with any other telescope,” said Rigby.

JWST has already proven to be a great tool for astronomers, Rigby said, but his biggest discoveries are yet to come.

“We’re just beginning to receive this flood of papers announcing the discoveries,” she said. JWST is being used to study planets in our solar system, the atmospheres of planets in other solar systems, how stars die, how galaxies evolve, and much more, said Rigby.

Pictured in unprecedented detail, a dying star expels gas and dust. Images like this one from JWST will help increase our understanding of how stars evolve.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI


Hide caption

Switch caption

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

Pictured in unprecedented detail, a dying star expels gas and dust. Images like this one from JWST will help increase our understanding of how stars evolve.

NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI

And although the JWST is much more powerful than previous telescopes, Rigby says astronomers can still use Hubble to supplement JWST observations.

“In many ways, JWST was built to do the things Hubble can’t, so they play really well together,” said Rigby. “The pitcher and captain on your baseball team do different things.”

Rigby said the telescope has enough propellants on board to last more than 20 years in space, so it’s possible that it could exceed the minimum of its planned mission of five years.

“I think next year will be even more exciting than this year,” Rigby said.

After all, it will take time to examine the data collected by the James Webb Space Telescope and see how much it could change our understanding of the many mysteries of the universe.