Monday, December 05, 2022

‘A new era’: NASA reveals more Webb telescope images of the universe

Hours after people around the world caught a glimpse of the “deepest and sharpest infrared view of the universe” ever obtained, the US space agency released other detailed photographs taken by the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA said the images from Webb, a joint collaboration with European and Canadian space agencies and the world’s largest and most powerful space telescope, ushered in “the dawn of a new era in astronomy.”

One of the photos released Tuesday morning showed a cloud of dust and rays of light surrounding a dying star known as the South Ring Nebula, located approximately 2,500 light-years from Earth, while another offered a glimpse of a cluster. of galaxies called Stephan’s Quintet.

“The darkest star at the center of this scene has been sending rings of gas and dust for thousands of years in all directions,” the agency said of the South Ring Nebula photo, adding that Webb “revealed for the first time that this star is covered in dust”.

“New details like these from the later stages of a star’s life will help us better understand how stars evolve and transform their environments,” NASA said.

The $9.7 billion Webb observatory is designed to peer through the cosmos to the beginning of the known universe, ushering in a revolutionary era of astronomical discoveries.

The first batch of high-resolution, color images, which took weeks to render from raw telescope data, were selected by NASA to provide compelling initial images of Webb’s key areas of investigation and a preview of the science missions ahead.

The Webb Telescope departed French Guiana, on the northeast coast of South America, on December 25, 2021, before reaching its final destination, 1.6 million kilometers from Earth, less than a month later.

Once there, Webb went through a six-month process of deploying its various components, aligning its mirrors and calibrating instruments – and more discoveries are expected to be revealed in the coming weeks.

“The amazing thing about Webb is the speed at which we can produce discoveries,” astrophysicist Jane Rigby said during a NASA live broadcast on Tuesday. “We’re going to make discoveries like this every week.”

Cheers and cheers from a lively James Webb “cheer team” welcomed nearly 300 scientists, telescope engineers, politicians and senior officials from NASA and its international partners to a packed, animated auditorium ahead of the opening speech. on Tuesday.

“I didn’t know I was coming to a rally today,” NASA Administrator James Nelson said from the stage, enthusing that “every Webb image is a discovery.”

The “deep field” image released during a brief White House event on Monday night is filled with many stars, with huge galaxies in the foreground and faint, extremely distant galaxies peeking here and there.

Part of the image is light from not long after the Big Bang, which occurred 13.8 billion years ago.

“What we saw today is the early universe,” Harvard astronomer Dimitar Sasselov told the Associated Press news agency after the revelation.

Built to see its objects primarily in the infrared spectrum, Webb is about 100 times more sensitive than its 30-year-old predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, which operates primarily in optical and ultraviolet wavelengths.

The much larger light-gathering surface of Webb’s primary mirror—an array of 18 hexagonal segments of gold-coated beryllium metal—allows us to observe objects at greater distances, hence further back in time, than Hubble or any other telescope.

One of the other images released on Tuesday revealed a “landscape of ‘mountains’ and ‘valleys’ dotted with bright stars” in what is known as the Carina Nebula, located about seven light-years away.

Another “captured the distinct signature of water, along with evidence of clouds and haze, in the atmosphere around a hot, bloated gas giant planet orbiting a distant Sun-like star.”

Amitabha Ghosh, a space scientist who has worked on NASA’s Mars missions, told Al Jazeera that “this is going to happen over and over again as this telescope moves forward – you’ll find a lot of these signatures in a lot of these galaxies where humans will never be. be able to visit”.

The images released so far have exceeded his expectations, Ghosh said on Tuesday, adding that Webb’s greatest contribution may be helping people orient themselves in time and space.

“The universe has a trillion galaxies and each galaxy has a trillion stars. So we are really very, very insignificant and we are insignificant in time. The human race has been around for perhaps a million years; the universe is 13 billion years old,” he said.

“So it shows us how insignificant we are and helps us find our way through time and space. I would say that is the biggest contribution.”

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