The next phase of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope will blow your mind


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Which. A week.

On Monday, President Biden released the first photo of the long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope – the most powerful observatory ever put into orbit – showing the stunning cluster of galaxies in full color. Not to be outdone, NASA released four more images the next day, showing stellar nurseries, groups of galaxies, especially a watery exoplanet, and a dying star.

While the images were on different levels, the most amazing part was that this was just the beginning. Webb is charged for 20 years, which means that we have decades of exciting photographs and scientific discoveries ahead of us. Of course, the question immediately arises: what is next for Webb?

Literally the whole universe, as it turned out. In fact, despite how amazing the latest images were, they’re really nothing compared to what’s to come. Eric Smith, JWST Program Fellow at NASA, made the announcement at a press conference on Tuesday.

“These were more or less practice runs with the tools,” Smith said, referring to the five published images. “We are making discoveries, and in fact we have not even begun to try. So the outlook for this telescope is amazing.”

While NASA has yet to release a timeline of what Webb will study next, here are a few things we can expect from the space observatory in the coming year:

Landmarks of the early universe

Perhaps the biggest reason for the Webb buzz is the space observatory’s ability to peer into some of the earliest stars and galaxies ever formed. This means being able to observe celestial objects as they were shortly after the Big Bang, almost 14 billion years ago.

President Biden’s image of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723 is one such example. Webb captured light from the region as it appeared 4.6 billion years ago using ultra-deep near-infrared imaging. Using its near-infrared spectrograph — an instrument that separates infrared light wavelength into a spectrum — the observatory was able to collect data on one of the youngest galaxies in the region, which appears to have originated within a billion years of the Big Bang.


And remember: this is just the beginning. One of Webb’s main missions is to study the early universe. This means that we are only just beginning to find some of the “youngest” space objects ever discovered. To this end, the entire mission of the JWST program is also focused on studying how galaxies formed and evolved over epochs. Its instruments will also provide a glimpse into the life cycle of stars, which the Hubble Space Telescope had trouble doing because it could only observe visible light.

Study of exoplanets and solar systems

One of the images released on Tuesday was not a photograph of a celestial body at all. It was a graph showing the measurement of water content in the atmosphere of a giant exoplanet dubbed WASP-96b.

It may seem a little disappointing given the other images, but it actually demonstrated an important feature of Webb: the ability to study and observe the atmosphere and conditions of exoplanets more deeply. This is extremely important for finding areas of space that may be habitable.

Distant objects are not the only place he will look at. Webb is also going to look into our own solar system, including places like Mars, Pluto and Saturn, to give us an even closer look at what’s in our backyard. NASA even released an image of Jupiter taken by Webb yesterday with its main imaging device, the near-infrared camera.

NASA, ESA, CSA and B. Holler and J. Stansberry (STScI)

Looking for an alien

We can’t talk about a powerful space observatory without mentioning the giant flying saucer-sized elephant in the room: aliens.

Because Webb can observe some of the most distant regions of space imaginable, many researchers hope he can find hidden exoplanets suitable for life. These could be planets in the Goldilocks zone, or regions of solar systems that are far enough away from their host star for liquid water. In other words, they just right for life.

Some of the exoplanets that Webb could start exploring aren’t too far off either. There are several Earth-sized planets in a system that orbits a star 40 light-years away, dubbed TRAPPIST-1. Olivia Lim, an exoplanet researcher at the University of Montreal, has scheduled some time to use Webb in the near future to study TRAPPIST-1 and its planets, some of which are in the Goldilocks zone of the star and represent one of our best opportunities to study. find signs of life

“The Trappist-1 system is unique,” Lim told AFP. “Almost all conditions there are favorable for the search for life outside our solar system.”

NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

Submission of proposals

Lim isn’t the only one sending suggestions. Astronomers and scientists around the world are demanding to spend some time at the space observatory while they can.

For approximately 20 years, the JWST program will hold annual open calls for applications from researchers of all backgrounds to propose projects and experiments for Webb to conduct. The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), which actually operates the observatory, will have the final say on who gets selected.

Think of it like auditioning for the school musical, but instead of getting into a crappy production In the forest, you will find out if you manage to study 13 billion year old galaxies, witness the birth of the universe and hunt aliens.

Webb operators accepted 266 proposals in the first year of scientific observation, known as Cycle 1. One of the coolest aspects of this is that all accepted projects are online and easily accessible for your enjoyment. This means that if you Indeed If you want to know what Webb is up to next year, you can click on the STScI website and see for yourself.

Along with what we have already covered in this article, Webb will closely study a number of supermassive black holes, test dark matter and study quasars.

How to avoid disaster

Although Webb is in orbit about a million miles from Earth, he will not be alone. It has an army of engineers, scientists, and land-based researchers to make sure everything runs as smoothly as it should. That’s no small feat considering we can’t send a repairman there if the worst-case scenario happens.

Hopefully, though, if everything goes according to plan, we won’t have to worry about it at all. As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” To that end, NASA created Webb to be incredibly resilient and able to withstand the harsh, unforgiving elements of space. This includes tools such as the sun visor, which reflects large amounts of sunlight away from sensitive electronics.

Put another way: Webb won’t break because it was built to No break. That spirit was put to the test in May when a micrometeoroid crashed into the telescope. Although the damage was minor, Webb’s design made it possible to withstand it and continue working.

While this may seem like cold comfort to some of us on Earth, you can rest easy knowing that Webb will continue to create stunning images and more amazing discoveries over the next twenty years. And even when it is completed, it will lay the foundation for countless amazing scientific discoveries for centuries to come.

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