Thursday, September 29, 2022

Why I’m Excited About the First Images from the James Webb Space Telescope

The long-awaited giant leap in the field of astronomy is upon us, as the $10 billion observatory, located some 15 million kilometers away from home, is about to take us beyond the world of imagination and into the realm of possibility that before they were just imaginations.

The first scientific image captured by the world’s most powerful observatory will be released on Tuesday.

While Masa has been tight-lipped about the target of this first observation, it has been teasing for the past six months as the telescope emerged from the darkness of space after being launched late last year. While the target remains secret, there are indications that the data release will contain the “deepest views of the Universe ever obtained and spectra obtained from an exoplanet atmosphere”.

Also read: | What will the first photos of the James Webb Telescope have? we have a clue

The images released in recent months are so stunning that they apparently brought Thomas Zarbuchen, who is Associate Administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD), to tears!

Operating at infrared wavelengths that are not accessible from Earth, Webb is the only current facility capable of providing unprecedented views of the cosmos at these wavelengths, which are expected to contain light from some of the earliest galaxies to form in the Universe, as well as potentially harboring signatures of life in exoplanetary atmospheres.

The primary data products delivered by the JWST will be images and spectra. Spectra contains highly complementary information on the emission and absorption of atoms and molecules that are vital to understanding. For example, the chemical composition of stars and gas in distant galaxies and the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars.

A spectrum is obtained by dividing the light arriving from astrophysical sources into a range of wavelengths. While an image gives us information about the total brightness of an object in the photometric filter using which the object is observed, a spectrum gives us the differential brightness of that object over the entire wavelength range covered by that filter.

Also read: | Where will the James Webb telescope look to click on the first pictures? we have a list

For studies of the formation and evolution of the most distant galaxies in the Universe, the initial observation plan with the JWST is to reach parts of the sky that have already been observed with the Hubble Space Telescope in the last two decades. This will allow JWST observations to instantly build on the incredible legacy value of existing Hubble data, providing complementary observations at infrared wavelengths that were not previously possible. Doing so would allow spectroscopic tracking of distant and extremely faint galaxies that have already been identified in Hubble images, as well as detecting even more distant galaxies that Hubble is unable to find, as the light from the most distant objects in the Universe is “redshifted”. at infrared wavelengths.

What is certain is that whatever NASA chooses to show at its JWST First Images event, these views of the cosmos will be humanity’s first foray into previously uncharted territory.

This event is a historic moment, not just for astronomers like me, but for humanity at large, reminding us once again that the sky we live under is the same for all creatures, and that we are just a speck of dust. in the incredible vastness of the Universe that has billions of stars, trillions of galaxies and quadrillions of possibilities.

(Dr. Aayush Saxena is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Astrophysics at University College London. His research aims to understand the formation and evolution of stars and supermassive black holes.)

Also read: | Imagine seeing the Milky Way in 2,000 infrared colors. The James Webb Telescope is about to do it

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Nation World News Desk
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