NASA administrator Bill Nelson said on Wednesday that the agency will reveal the “deepest image of our universe ever captured” on July 12, thanks to the newly operational James Webb Space Telescope.
“If you think about that, this is beyond humanity’s ever looked,” Nelson said at a press conference at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the operation center for the $10 billion observatory that launched last December and now orbits the sun 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.
An engineering marvel, Webb can see further into the cosmos than any telescope before it, thanks to its massive primary mirror and its infrared-focused instruments, allowing it to peer through dust and gas.
“It’s going to explore objects in the solar system and atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, and give us clues as to whether their atmospheres might be similar to ours,” Nelson added, speaking by phone while isolated with COVID.
“It can answer some questions that we have: where are we from? What else is there? Who are we? And of course it will answer some questions that we don’t even know what the questions are.”
Webb’s infrared capabilities allow it to look deeper in time to the Big Bang, which happened 13.8 billion years ago.
As the universe expands, the light from the earliest stars shifts from the ultraviolet and visible wavelengths it aired in, the longer infrared wavelengths– which Webb can detect with unprecedented resolution.
Right now, the earliest cosmological observations date within 330 million years of the Big Bang, but with Webb’s abilities, astronomers believe they will easily break the record.
20 years of life
Even more good news, NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy revealed that, thanks to an efficient launch by NASA’s partner Arianespace, the telescope could remain operational for 20 years, doubling its lifespan originally envisioned.
“Not only will those 20 years allow us to dive deeper into history and time, but we’ll go deeper into science because we have the opportunity to learn and grow and make new observations,” she said.
NASA also plans to share Webb’s first spectroscopy of a distant planet known as an exoplanet on July 12, NASA’s top scientist Thomas Zurbuchen said.
Spectroscopy is a tool to analyze the chemical and molecular makeup of distant objects, and a planetary spectrum can help characterize the atmosphere and other properties, such as whether it has water and what the ground looks like.
“From the beginning we will look at these worlds that keep us up at night as we look up at the starry sky and wonder as we look out, is there life elsewhere?” said Zurbuchen.
Nestor Espinoza, as an STSI astronomer, told AFP that previous exoplanet spectroscopies performed with existing instruments were very limited compared to what Webb could do.
“It’s like being in a room that’s very dark and you only have a small hole that you can see through,” he said of current technology. Now, with Webb, “You’ve opened a huge window. You can see all the little details.”
© 2022 AFP
Quote: Webb telescope: NASA reveals deepest image ever made of universe (2022, June 29) retrieved June 29, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-webb-telescope-nasa-reveal-deepest.html
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