US President Joe Biden is set to reveal one of the first images of the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful telescope ever sent into orbit, at the end of Monday, kicking off two days of festivities eagerly awaited by space enthusiasts around the world.
Distant galaxies, star nebula nurseries… On Friday, NASA announced the names of the first five chosen cosmic targets. But the images, which promise to be stunning, have so far been jealously guarded for suspense.
Joe Biden is set to reveal the first scientific photograph James Webb took of himself, according to NASA, during an event at the White House at 5:00 p.m. local time, in the presence of US Space Agency chief Bill Nelson.
The latter had promised at the end of June that this surprise bag would contain “the deepest image of our universe ever taken”. James Webb is considered a $10 billion engineering gem, and one of his main tasks is to explore the early ages of the universe.
The other images will then be revealed during a NASA online event Tuesday morning. Both should impress the public with their beauty, but should also demonstrate to astronomers around the world the full power of the scientific instruments on board.
Experts will then be able to begin interpreting the data collected using custom software, giving the go-ahead for a great science adventure.
“When I first saw the images (…), I suddenly learned three new things about the universe that I didn’t know before,” Dan Ko told AFP, one of the lucky few in confidence. “It totally blew me away,” said this astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, who is responsible for James Webb’s operations.
He testified that this telescope “will change our understanding of the universe.”
The first image expected on Monday may be of a deep field, that is, an image taken with a long exposure time to detect faint flares, according to a scientific source.
On Friday, NASA announced that a snapshot will be taken of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. It behaves like a magnifying glass, and its peculiarity is the ability to detect very distant objects located behind it – an effect called gravitational lensing.
The names of the other observed cosmic bodies are as poetic as they are charming: the Carina Nebula, the Southern Ring (giant clouds of gas and dust where stars form), and the Stefan Quintet (a compact group of galaxies).
However, the possibly fascinating colors that will be revealed in the images, will not be directly those that are observed by the telescope.
Light is divided into different wavelengths, and James Webb works in infrared radiation, which the human eye cannot perceive. So the infrared colors will be “translated” into visible colors.
Thanks to these observations in the near and medium infrared, James Webb will be able to see through the impenetrable dust clouds of his predecessor, the legendary Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990 and still in operation, it has a small infrared capability, but works mostly in visible and ultraviolet light.
“Even when Hubble was able to take an image of a distant galaxy, it was not able to distinguish between a squirrel and an elephant,” French astrophysicist David Elbaz summed up to AFP.
“We will discover the formation of stars buried in interstellar dust, galaxies unseen because they are buried in bluish dust,” he was excited, excited, and impatient to discover the images.
Other major differences between the two telescopes: James Webb’s main mirror is about three times larger than the Hubble mirror and far more evolving: 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, as opposed to 600 kilometers from the Hubble mirror.
Also scheduled for Tuesday is the release of the first spectroscopic analysis of the James Webb Telescope, a technique used to determine the chemical composition of a distant object. In this case, WASP-96 b, a giant planet composed primarily of gas and located outside our solar system.
Exoplanets (planets orbiting a star other than our Sun) is also one of James Webb’s main areas of research. About 5,000 have been discovered since 1995, but they are still very mysterious.
The goal is to study their atmosphere to determine if they can turn into habitable worlds and lead to the evolution of life.
The publication of these first images will mark the official start of the telescope’s first cycle of scientific observation.
Several hundred monitoring projects, proposed by researchers from all over the world, have already been selected by a panel of specialists for this first year of operation.
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