How the James Webb Space Telescope changed astronomy in its first year

How the James Webb Space Telescope changed astronomy in its first year
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As Christmas approached last year, astronomers and space enthusiasts from around the world gathered to watch a highly anticipated release of the James Webb Space Telescope. Although a magnificent piece of engineering, the telescope was no less disputes – to the naming of a former NASA administrator accused of going over budget and falling behind schedule homophobia.

Despite the controversy surrounding the telescope’s naming and history, one thing has become clear this year—JWST’s scientific prowess is remarkable. Launched in July 2022, it has already enabled astronomers to gain new insights and unravel mysteries about a wide range of cosmic topics.

JWST’s most pressing goal is one of the most ambitious projects in the recent history of astronomy: to look back at some of the first galaxies that formed when the universe was brand new.

Thousands of galaxies flood this near-infrared image of the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723

Because light takes time to travel from its source to us on Earth, by looking at extremely distant galaxies, astronomers can actually look back in time to see the earliest galaxies that formed more than 13 billion years ago.

Although there was some controversy Among astronomers concerned about the accuracy of some of the first detections of the first galaxies — JWST’s instrument wasn’t fully calibrated, so there was some wiggle room about exactly how old the most distant galaxies were — the latest findings support the idea that JWST discovered. galaxies from the first 350 million years After the Big Bang.

This makes them the earliest galaxies ever observed, and they had some surprises, like being brighter than expected. This means there is much more for us to learn about how galaxies formed in the early universe.

These early galaxies are identified using surveys and deep field images, uses Webb to look at large patches of sky that may at first appear blank. These areas lack objects as bright as the planets of the solar system and are located far from the center of our galaxy, allowing astronomers to look deep into space to detect these extremely distant objects.

JWST was able to detect carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of an exoplanet for the first time, and recently made a discovery. owns other compounds In the atmosphere of the planet WASP-39b, including water vapor and sulfur dioxide. Not only does this mean that scientists can see the composition of the planet’s atmosphere, but also how the atmosphere interacts with the light of the planet’s parent star, as sulfur dioxide is produced by chemical reactions with the light.

Learning about exoplanet atmospheres is critical if we want to find Earth-like planets and search for life. The previous generation of instruments could identify exoplanets and determine basic information such as their mass or diameter and how far they orbit from the star. But to understand what it would be like to be on one of these planets, we need to know about their atmospheres. With data from JWST, astronomers will be able to search for habitable planets far beyond our solar system.

Jupiter's rings imaged by a space telescope.

Jupiter’s rings imaged by a space telescope.
Photo: NASA

It’s not just distant planets that attract JWST’s attention. Closer to home, JWST has been used to study planets, including our own solar system Neptune and Jupiter, and will soon be used to study Uranus as well. By looking in the infrared range, JWST was able to pick out features such as Jupiter’s auroras and a clear view of the Great Red Spot. The telescope’s high resolution meant that it could see small objects even against the brightness of planets, such as showing the rarely seen rings of Jupiter. It also captured the clearest picture of Neptune’s rings in more than 30 years.

The other big JWST study this year was about Mars. Mars is the best-studied planet outside of Earth and has hosted numerous rovers, orbiters, and landers over the years. This means that astronomers have a fairly good understanding of its atmospheric composition and are beginning to learn about its weather system. Mars is also particularly difficult for a sensitive space telescope like JWST to study because it is so bright and so close. But these factors made it the perfect testing ground to see what the new telescope was capable of.

JWST is used both cameras and spectrographs study of Mars, showing the composition of its atmosphere almost perfectly matching the model expected from current data, showing just how accurate the JWST instruments are for this kind of study.

Another goal of JWST is to learn about the life cycle of stars, which astronomers currently understand in broad strokes. They know that clouds of dust and gas form knots and collect more material for them to collapse to form proto-stars, for example, but how this happens requires more research. They also study the regions where stars form and why stars tend to form in clusters.

JWST is particularly useful for studying this topic because its infrared instruments allow us to peer through dust clouds to see star-forming regions. The latest footage shows development of proto-stars and they look at dense star-forming regions such as ejecta clouds and celebrities Pillars of Creation In the Eagle Nebula. By visualizing these structures different wavelengthsJWST instruments can see various features of dust and star formation.

This image shows a spiral galaxy dominated by a bright central region.  The galaxy has blue-violet hues with orange-red regions full of stars.  A large diffraction spike is also visible over the central region of the galaxy, which looks like a star pattern.  Many stars and galaxies fill the background scene

NGC 7469
ESA/Webb, NASA and CSA, L. Armus,

Speaking of the Pillars of Creation, one of JWST’s greatest legacies in the public mind is the stunning images of space it captured. International excitement at the announcement the telescope’s first images in July tone new views of iconic landmarks Like the columns, Webb’s pictures have been everywhere this year.

Also stylish Carina Nebula and first deep fieldother images worth a minute of your time include star sculpture forms. Tarantula Nebuladusty “tree rings” binary star Wolf-Rayet 140and the otherworldly glow Jupiter infrared.

And the pictures keep coming: a new picture was released last week bright heart The galaxy NGC 7469.

Here’s to a year of incredible discoveries and more to come.

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