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What We Learned From the Webb Telescope’s First Images

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This article is based on previous reports by Kenneth Chang, Dennis Overbye, Joshua Sokol and Carl Zimmer.

NASA released five images on Tuesday from the early works of the James Webb Space Telescope. The photographs highlight the great potential of telescopes to uncover the secrets of deep space. Below are some of the things we have learned so far.

NASA’s experience with the Hubble Space Telescope Send back a blurry image We have shown that advanced scientific instruments may not work as intended. Astronauts went to Hubble many times to repair Hubble, but such a fix was not possible on the Web, which is far from Earth than humans have moved.

At a press conference on Tuesday, they did brilliantly, as explained by Jane Rigby, a scientist on a telescope operations project.

“I had a very emotional reaction,’Oh, that works,'” she said, explaining the first razor-sharp test image that the telescope sent home. “And it works better than we expected.”

Or as hundreds of scientists put it in A treatise published online on Tuesday However, it has not been peer reviewed yet. “Telescopes and equipment suites have demonstrated the sensitivity, stability, image quality, and spectral range needed to change our understanding of the universe through observations extending from near-Earth asteroids to the furthest galaxies.”

Scientific research is already underway. Approximately 13 projects were considered early release science programs and were selected to dramatically start the Webb era. They cover different categories and include our solar system, intergalactic space, giant black holes and the galaxies they live in, and the evolution of stars.

“The results of science will unfold,” said Dr. Rigby.

President Biden introduced on Monday an image created by the Webb telescope, which NASA officials and astronomers welcomed as one of the deepest images ever taken in space.

Images of distant clusters called SMACS 0723 reveal the existence of distant galaxies spilling across the sky. Light from these galaxies was visualized by the gravitational field of the cluster and occurred over 13 billion years ago.

Astronomers theorize that the farthest and earliest stars may be different from the ones we see today. The first star is composed of pure hydrogen and helium left from the Big Bang and can grow much larger than the Sun. It then rapidly and violently collapses into the kind of supermassive black hole that now exists in the center of most galaxies.

The spectrum of Jupiter-sized exoplanet WASP-96b was not the most striking image displayed on the screen on Tuesday — showing the tilt of the chart recorded as the planet passed in front of the star. , Not a bending cliff of the universe 1,120 Lights-a few years away. But when astronomers operating the Webb Space Telescope at the Baltimore Space Telescope Institute saw it, they gasped and applauded.

“I am very pleased to share this with you,” said astronomer Nestor Espinoza.

The planet was previously studied from the ground and in Hubble. However, the Webb Telescope also picked up evidence of water vapor, haze, and previously invisible clouds. It surprised scientists.

It is very unlikely that WASP-96b is the home of living things, but the same technique can be used to determine if a small, rocky world orbiting other stars is habitable.

Megan Mansfield, an astronomer at the University of Arizona, said: “But we can’t always identify life right away.”

Due to the relatively small size of these exoplanets, research has been very difficult to date. The Webb Telescope allows astronomers to take a closer look at these worlds.

The Space Telescope is “the first large space observatory to incorporate research into the atmosphere of exoplanets in its design,” said Dr. Mansfield.

We already have some targets in mind, such as Trappist-1, a star with multiple planets in the habitable zone. Knicole Colón, a deputy project scientist in telescope exoplanet science, said:

But the most striking image was the Carina Nebula. This is a vast, swirling dust cloud that is a star nursery and home to some of the brightest and most explosive stars in the Milky Way. Seen in the infrared, the nebula resembled an oncoming eroded coastal cliff dotted with hundreds of stars never seen by astronomers.

“It took me a while to figure out what to call in this image,” said Amber Strawn, a deputy project scientist at the telescope, pointing at a rocky structure.

The picture also contained structures that scientists couldn’t explain, such as strange curved features.

“As always, there’s room for surprise,” said Amaya Moro Martin, an astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute who presented the image to a colleague on Tuesday. “I don’t know what this is.”

Expect more such discoveries from the Webb — something you’ve never seen before and needs explanation.

In the case of spacecraft such as the James Webb Space Telescope, it was inevitable that debris of cosmic dust would hit the mirror. Still, it was an unwelcome surprise to NASA officials to discover that one of the telescope’s mirrors was damaged by a micrometeoroid strike in late May and the hit was larger than expected.

NASA officials said the distortion was barely noticeable and Webb’s performance still exceeded all requirements. The engineer also tweaked the position of the damaged mirror to cancel some of the distortion.

Before the incident was reported, four small micrometeorites had already collided with the telescope.

“The only concern we have in our minds is the micrometeoroid environment,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy director of NASA’s scientific mission.

Dr. Zurbuchen said NASA is evaluating flight options to increase the likelihood that dust hitting the telescope will hit the back of the mirror instead of the front.

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