Webb Telescope Image Provides New Window to the Universe

The universe was born in the dark 13.8 billion years ago, and even after the first glowing stars and galaxies existed a few hundred million years later, they are still in the dark. Their brilliant light, time-stretched and the expanding universe, dims in the infrared, making them – and other clues to our beginnings – inaccessible to everyone. eyes and equipment.

Until now. On Tuesday, the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful space observatory yet to be built, provided a breathtaking view of our formerly invisible young universes. Ancient galaxies carpeted the sky like jewels on black velvet. Immature stars shine from deep within the cumulus clouds of interstellar dust. Hints of water vapor in the atmosphere of a distant alien planet.

Their sum is both a new vision of the universe and a view of the universe as it once appeared.

“It’s always been there,” said Jane Rigby, an astrophysicist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the telescope’s operations manager. “We just had to build a telescope to see what was there.”

Webb Telescope – NASA’s lauded successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, with 30 years and nearly $10 billion in the making – equipped to approach the field of space history study the first stars and galaxies as well as search for closer, potentially habitable worlds. This is a partnership between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.

“We’re looking for the first to emerge from the Big Bang,” said John Mather, senior scientist on the telescope project.

President Biden gives a preview on Monday afternoon as he presented what NASA officials and astronomers hailed as the deepest image ever taken of the universe, a landmark that will likely be approved before this week. when there’s a lot of data coming out of NASA’s computer.

This image of a distant star cluster, SMACS 0723, shows the presence of still more distant galaxies spilling across the sky. Light from those galaxies, magnified into view by the cluster’s gravitational field, originated more than 13 billion years ago.

Looking out into space is looking into the past. Light travels at a constant speed of 186,000 miles per second, or nearly six trillion miles a year, through the vacuum of space. To observe a star 10 light-years away is to treat it as if it existed 10 years ago, when light left its surface. The farther away a star or galaxy is, the older it gets, making every telescope a kind of time machine.

Astronomers theorize that the earliest, most distant stars may not be like the stars we see today. The first stars consisted of pure hydrogen and helium left over from the Big Bang, and they could grow much larger than the sun – and then collapse rapidly and violently into supermassive black holes large of the kind currently located at the center of most galaxies.

The new photos were released during an hour-long ceremony at the Goddard Space Flight Center organized by Michelle Thaller, the center’s assistant director of science communications, with stop-videos around the world. . A few miles away at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, a crowd of astronomers were shouting, squealing and exclaiming, as new images flashed across the screen – proof for found their telescope to be working better than hoped.

An infrared view of Stephan’s Quartet, five randomly arranged galaxies in the constellation Pegasus. The four are so closely involved in a dance that they will eventually merge. Indeed, the image shows a band of warming dust as two of the galaxies separate the stars from each other.

A view of the Southern Ring nebula, the remnants of an exploded star, reveals hints of complex carbon molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, floating in its middle. Such molecules travel through space, settle in clouds, and then give birth to new stars, planets, asteroids – and whatever life may then germinate.

“It’s possible that the formation of PAHs in these stars was a very important part of how life began,” said Bruce Balick, professor of astronomy emeritus at the University of Washington. “I was stolen.”

The most striking image is the Carina Nebula, a massive, swirling dust cloud that is both a star nursery and home to some of the most luminous and explosive stars in the Milky Way. Seen in infrared, the nebula resembles an eroded coastal cliff looming with hundreds of stars that astronomers have never seen before.

“It took me a while to figure out what to call what in this image,” said Amber Straughn, the telescope project’s deputy scientist. , said as she pointed to a craggy structure.

Dr Straughn added that she couldn’t help but think about the scale of the nebula, full of stars with planets of their own.

“We humans are really connected to the universe,” she said. “We are made of the same things in this landscape.”

From astronomers and at watch parties around the globe, accolades and accolades were received in unison.

“This event blew me away,” said Alan Dressler, an astronomer at the Carnegie Observatory who was credited with planning the telescope 30 years ago. “I guess I’m not as confused as I thought.”

He added: “The growth in our understanding of the universe will be as great as with Hubble, and that really says something. We are having a great adventure. “

The images and other data released Tuesday were selected by a small group of imaging specialists and public outreach specialists so that the images can demonstrate the scope and power of the telescope. new – and beat the public.

These will be followed over the next six months by the results of studies in NASA’s Early Release Science Program. Some of the results, including images of galaxies even farther away than those shown by Mr Biden on Monday, will be available later this week. On Thursday, all data collected during testing of the telescope and its instruments will be available.

Now when the images have been published, “there will be a crazy feeding astronomer!” Garth Illingworth, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the initiator of the telescope program four decades ago, wrote in an email.

The Early Release Science Programs, aimed at kicking off the Webb era, include studies of the solar system, galaxies, intergalactic space, massive black holes, and the evolution of stars.

Jupiter and its numerous gravitational moons, such as Europa, the target of an upcoming NASA mission, will be a focus. Two more studies will be devoted to exoplanets, including Trappist-1 . System, just 40 light-years away, where seven planets surround a faint red dwarf star. Three of those planets are Earth-sized rocks orbiting the habitable zone, where surface water could exist.

Just as the Hubble Space Telescope has defined astronomy over the past three decades, NASA hopes Webb will define the field for a new generation of researchers who eagerly await the rendezvous point. their own with the universe.

Long time no see. What begins as the Next Generation Space Telescope evolves into infrared telescopes capable of sensing heat from the earliest stars and galaxies in the universe.

Because the universe was expanding, those earliest stars and galaxies were darting away from Earth so quickly that their light was being shifted to longer, redder wavelengths, like the sound of a siren. the ambulance’s motion shifts to the lower register as it accelerates. Light from the most distant and earliest galaxies and stars, once blue, is now infrared “thermal” radiation, invisible to the naked eye. Radiation from carbon, ozone, and other molecules is also of interest to astronomers.

An initial planning committee concluded that the telescope should be at least four meters in diameter (Hubble’s is just 2.4 meters) and be highly sensitive to infrared radiation, and it would be costly. 1 million dollar. NASA administrator Dan Goldin liked the idea but was concerned that the four-meter telescope would be too small to see the first stars, so he increased the size to eight meters.

However, doubling in size, the telescope would no longer fit any existing rockets. That means the telescope’s mirror would have to be foldable, and it would have to expand on its own in space. NASA eventually positioned itself on a 6.5 meter wide mirror, with seven times more light-gathering power than that of Hubble.

Furthermore, the telescope would have to be cooled to minus 380 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the telescope’s temperature from flooding faint emissions from distant stars. (An instrument would have to be even colder, minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit, just a few degrees above absolute zero.)

But all the challenges in developing and building the instrument are still there. In 1990, NASA sent Hubble into orbit with a misshaped mirror; Still stinging with that embarrassment, the agency devised a lengthy and costly program of testing the new telescope. The price went up to $8 billion, and in 2011 Congress nearly canceled the project.

“Webb became the perfect storm,” Dr. Dressler recalls. “The more expensive it is, the more important it is that it doesn’t break, and that makes it even more expensive.”

During an initial test, the sunshade was torn. “When you’re working with a $10 billion telescope, it’s no big deal,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, executive vice president of science missions at NASA. “It’s hard to tell what’s bold and what’s not.”

The Webb telescope represents the combined effort of some 20,000 engineers, astronomers, technicians and officials, according to Bill Ochs, who has been the telescope’s project director since 2011. It is currently orbiting the sun at a point called L2, which combines gravitational fields. of the sun and the Earth create a stable resting point. Its mirror, made of 18 gold-coated beryllium hexagons, suggests a sunflower floating on the blade of a giant shovel – the sun visor that keeps the telescope cool and side-facing. apart from our star.

All of Webb’s troubles vanished on Christmas morning, when a perfect launch from French Guiana and lifted the telescope past hundreds of “single points of error” and left it with plenty of maneuverable fuel. twice the expected and possible 20-year career in science. The mirror also proved to be more than twice as good at detecting the shortest wavelengths of light than expected, increasing the telescope’s resolving power.

As the Goddard ceremony concluded on Tuesday, Dr. Zurbuchen and Dr. Mather took to the stage to congratulate and commend the team for their long and good work together. Dr. Mather said he was never worried that the telescope would fail. “Though maybe I should,” he added.

Dr. Zurbuchen countered: “I get paid to worry.”

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