The universe was born in the dark 13.8 billion years ago, and even after the first stars and galaxies burned hundreds of millions of years later, they also remained in the dark. Their brilliant light, stretched by time and the expanding universe, dimmed into the infrared, making them-and other clues to our beginning-inaccessible to all eyes and instruments.
until now. On Tuesday, the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful space observatory ever built, provided a spectacular slideshow of the early universe that was previously unseen. An ancient galaxy that carpets the sky like a black velvet jewel. A fledgling star that shines from the depths of the interplanetary dust cumulus. Tips for water vapor in the atmosphere of distant exoplanets.
The sum of them is not only a new vision of the universe, but also a view of the universe that once looked new.
“It was always there,” said Jane Rigby, an astrophysicist and telescope operational project scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “I had to build a telescope to see what was there.”
The successor to NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope, the Webb Telescope, has been in development for nearly $ 10 billion for 30 years, accessing this territory of space history, studying the first stars and galaxies, closer and more latent. Equipped to find a habitable world. This is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
John Mother, Senior Project Scientist for Telescopes, said:
President Biden provided a preview on Monday afternoon when NASA officials and astronomers introduced what they welcomed as the deepest image of the universe ever taken. This is a mark that will probably pass a week ago as more data erupts from NASA’s computer.
Images of distant clusters called SMACS 0723 reveal the existence of farther 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.
Looking outward at the universe is looking at the past. Light travels in a vacuum of space at a constant speed of 186,000 miles per second, or nearly 6 trillion miles per year. Observing a star 10 light-years away means seeing the star that existed when the light left the surface 10 years ago. The farther the stars and galaxies are, the older they are and all telescopes become a kind of time machine.
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 collapses rapidly and violently into the kind of supermassive black hole that now exists in the center of most galaxies.
The new photo was unveiled at a one-hour ceremony at the Goddard Space Flight Center hosted by Michelle Suller, Assistant Director of the Center for Science Communication, and the video stopped around the world. At the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, a few miles away, a crowd of astronomers shouted and shouted as new images flashed on the screen. This is evidence that the telescope was working better than expected.
One infrared sky view showed that Stephan’s Quintet, five galaxies, were probably densely packed in Pegasus. The four are so closely involved in gravity dance that they eventually merge. Indeed, the image revealed a band of dust that was heated when the two galaxies tore each other’s stars.
Looking at the Southern Ring Nebula, the wreckage of an exploding star, reveals a hint of a complex carbon molecule known as a polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) floating in the middle of it. Such molecules drift in space and settle in clouds, creating new stars, planets, asteroids, and any life that may sprout thereafter.
“Perhaps the formation of PAHs on these stars is a very important part of how life began,” said Bruce Balick, an emeritus professor of astronomy at the University of Washington. “I’m rugged.”
The most impressive 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.
Dr. Strone added that he cannot help thinking about the size of a nebula full of stars with their planets.
“We humans are really connected to the universe,” she said. “We are made from the same thing in this landscape.”
There was uniform relief and admiration from astronomers and at watch parties around the world.
“This event surprised me,” said Alandresler, an astronomer at the Carnegie Observatory who helped plan the telescope 30 years ago. “I don’t think I’m as tired as I expected.”
He added: “The growth of our understanding of the universe will be as great as Hubble’s. It’s really saying something. We’re on a great adventure.”
Empty “feeding frenzy”
Photos and other data released on Tuesday show off the range and power of the new telescope, a small of image experts and public outreach experts due to the image’s ability to take off the socks of the general public. Selected by the team.
These will continue the results of NASA’s research in the next 6 months Early Release Science Program.. Some results, including images of galaxies farther than Biden showed on Monday, will be available later this week. On Thursday, all data collected during testing of the telescope and its equipment will be available.
“Astronomers will feed enthusiastically!” Girth Illingworth, a researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz, who started the telescope program 40 years ago, said the image was released. I am writing in.
Early-release science programs aimed at dramatically starting the Web era include research into the solar system, galaxies, intergalactic spaces, giant black holes, and star evolution.
Jupiter and its myriad of interesting satellites, such as Europe, the target of future NASA missions, will be one focus. Two other studies are directed to extrasolar planets, including the Trappist-1 system, where seven planets orbit a dim red dwarf, only 40 light-years away. Three of those planets are earth-sized rocks orbiting the habitable zone where water may be present on the surface.
Dream of invisible light
Just as the Hubble Space Telescope has defined astronomy for the past three decades, NASA expects Webb to define a field for a new generation of researchers who are eagerly awaiting a rendezvous with space.
long time no see.What started when the next-generation space telescope evolved For infrared telescopes that can detect heat From the earliest stars and galaxies in the universe.
As the universe expands, these early stars and galaxies rush away from Earth, and the light is longer and longer, much like the sound from an ambulance siren shifts to the bass as it speeds up. Shifts to the red wavelength. The light from the farthest and earliest galaxies and stars was once blue, but is now an infrared “heat” radiation that is invisible to the eye. The same is true for radiation from carbon, ozone and other molecules that are of great interest to astrobiologists.
Early planning committees concluded that the telescope should be at least 4 meters in diameter (Hubble is only 2.4 meters in diameter) and very sensitive to infrared rays, costing $ 1 billion. NASA administrator Dan Goldin liked the idea, but was worried that a 4-meter telescope would be too small to see the first star, so he increased the size to 8 meters.
However, when the size doubles, the telescope can no longer be mounted on existing rockets. That is, the telescope’s mirror needs to be folded and unfolds itself in space. NASA eventually settled on a 6.5-meter-wide mirror with seven times the light-collecting power of Hubble.
In addition, the telescope must be cooled to minus 380 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent the heat of the telescope itself from overwhelming the faint radiation from distant stars. (One device had to be minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit, just a few degrees above absolute zero, and even colder.) This was achieved by permanently parking the telescope behind the shade. rice field.
However, all the challenges of device development and construction remained. In 1990, NASA put Hubble in orbit with a deformed mirror. Still stabbed by its embarrassment, the agency devised a long and expensive test program for the new telescope. The price tag has risen to $ 8 billion and in 2011 Congress almost canceled the project.
“The web has become a perfect storm,” recalls Dr. Dressler. “The higher it is, the more important it is that it doesn’t fail, which makes it even more expensive.”
During one early test, the sunshade broke. “There are no minor issues with a $ 10 billion telescope,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, deputy director of NASA’s science mission. “It’s hard to know what is bold and what isn’t.”
Christmas for astronomers
According to Bill Ox, a telescope project manager since 2011, the Web Telescope is a combination of about 20,000 engineers, astronomers, technicians and bureaucrats. Create a stable resting spot for the sun and the earth. The mirror, made of 18 gold-coated beryllium hexagons, suggests a sunflower floating on the blade of a giant shovel.
On Christmas morning, lift the telescope with a perfect launch from French Guiana, lift the telescope beyond hundreds of “single points of failure”, leaving twice as much maneuvering fuel as expected, with 20 years of career potential. When I left, all the web issues were gone. Science. Mirrors have also proved to be twice as good as expected to detect the shortest wavelengths of light, improving telescope resolution.
At the end of the Goddard Ceremony on Tuesday, Dr. Zurbuchen and Dr. Mather went on stage to congratulate and praise the team they had worked with for a long time. Dr. Mother said he never worried that the telescope wouldn’t succeed. “Maybe I should have one,” he added.
Dr. Zulbuchen counterattacked: “I get paid for worrying.”