Friday, May 31, 2024

The first observations of the James Webb Telescope were revealed on Tuesday

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Alan Binder
Alan Binder
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NASA claims that the quality of these observations will reveal the extraordinary scientific capabilities of the instruments of this C$14 billion gem of technology.

We can’t wait! The people at NASA said the photos brought tears to their eyes, so our expectations are really highEnthusiasm Natalie Owlette, communications scientist for James Webb in Canada, and coordinator of the Institute for Exoplanet Research (iREx).

An artistic illustration showing the appearance of the Webb telescope deployed in space.

Photo: NASA / European Space Agency

The results, presented by NASA in conjunction with the European and Canadian Space Agencies (ESA) and Canada, will be revealed at a press conference to be held at 10:30 a.m. at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington.

A few Canadian mission leaders will attend, including Professor René Doyon from the University of Montreal. For her part, Natalie Owlette will attend the conference at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), in St Hubert, with her colleagues and will answer questions from the media.

Target [de la présentation] It is to demonstrate the ability of a telescope to study a range of different celestial bodies. »

Quote from Natalie Owlette, Coordinator, Exoplanet Research Institute

The event will follow worldwide astrophysics research teams and astronomy enthusiasts. NASA revealed some of the targets from initial observations earlier this week.

We already know that the spectrum of the atmosphere of an exoplanet will be presented, which is very excitingSays Natalie Owlette.

This exoplanet is called WASP-96. Its spectrum should provide basic information about the chemical and molecular elements of its atmosphere. It could also make it possible to understand how a planet was formed, but also to see if it harbored elements that would reveal the presence of life.

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Besides an exoplanet, there are four celestial bodies that have been observed:

  • The Carina Nebula, one of the largest and brightest in the sky;
Clouds and colored dots on a black background.

The Carina Nebula as seen by Hubble in visible (left) and infrared (right) light. The Webb Telescope will provide a new image of the celestial body.

Photo: NASA/ESA/Hubble

  • The Southern Ring Nebula, an expanding gas cloud around a dying star;
  • Stephan’s Quintet, a compact group of galaxies;
  • SMACS 0723, a massive galaxy cluster.

The most anticipated element of the conference undoubtedly remains the unveiling of the deepest image of the universe ever taken. An achievement that promises to break the record set by Hubble with its ultra-deep field that revolutionized astronomy in 2004.

Hubble's ultra-deep field.  Many colored dots on a black background.

Hubble’s Extremely Deep Field, an image that required 800 exposures during its 400 orbits of the Earth in 2003 and 2004, shows nearly 10,000 galaxies, including some of the distant ones known at the time.


At the time, Hubble collected visible and near-infrared rays covering 30 million from a small region of the celestial sphere in the northern hemisphere, resulting in a stunning image showing thousands of galaxies of different ages, shapes and sizes. Various colors, some of which existed when the universe was only 800 million years old.

Galaxy Appetizer

As an introduction, the three partner agencies of the Webb mission released an image of stars and galaxies last Wednesday that gives a glimpse into the power of the space observatory.

This image of the star HD147980 was taken last May as a result of 72 exposures over a 32-hour period. It is an interference of observations that is not optimized for detecting faint objects. However, the photo still reveals things with very low light.

This great image shows that FGS performs so well that it can also be used for scientific purposes, even if it wasn’t designed for it in the first place. »

Quote from Natalie Owlette, Coordinator, Exoplanet Research Institute

At the moment, it is the deepest image of the universe in the infrared. But the reality may change on Tuesday.

Canadian contribution

The James Webb Telescope can look at the universe more than any other telescope thanks to its huge main mirror and four instruments that receive infrared signals, allowing them to penetrate the dust clouds.

Canada provides two of four critical instruments for the Webb mission: NIRISS (Near Infrared Spectroscopy) and FGS (Fine Guidance Sensor).

NIRISS has collected some data that will be shared at the press conference, along with US NIRCam, the mission’s primary photographer.

NIRISS has specialized imaging capabilities to study the atmospheres of exoplanets and very distant galaxiesnotes Natalie Owlette.

As for FGS, its work is also at the heart of Tuesday’s announcements, and all that will follow, as it is the guiding detector that allows a telescope to point an object and make observations with stability and precision. Thanks to FGS and also the NIRCam photographer, James Webb was able to draw a picture of the star HD147980.

The FGS is like the eye of a telescope. »

Quote from Natalie Owlette, Coordinator, Exoplanet Research Institute

NIRISS and FGS were designed by a team co-led by Pr René Doyon of the University of Montreal.

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A new era of exploration

The Webb telescope was launched on December 25 from French Guiana, and reached its workplace 1.5 million kilometers from Earth in January.

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Their scientific structures and instruments are now being published, calibrated and tested.

Thus, the results published on Tuesday mark the transition between the commissioning phase of the telescope and the start of its science mission.

During the first five months of the mission, James Webb’s instruments will be used exclusively by teams associated with the thirteen initial observational programs selected after a competition based on their scientific interest in astronomy research.

Many Canadian and Quebec scholars participate in these programmes.

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