‘Wait ’til you’re blown away’: James Webb Space Telescope reveals universe as never seen before | Science and technology news


Ahead of the biggest premiere the world of astronomy has ever seen, NASA has released the cosmic A-list that will appear through the lens of its colossal new space telescope.

And it’s not just stars. There are galaxies, also a planet, and what promises to be the deepest look into the past mankind has ever achieved.

On Tuesday, the first images from the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be shared with the world.

Only a handful of the thousands of scientists and engineers working on the project saw them. But the words “spectacular” and “beautiful” are whispered among those who have.

In a teaser ahead of the main release, NASA, the European and Canadian space agencies who collaborated on JWST released a list of the five locations in the universe first imaged by the telescope.

The locations aren’t exactly household names, but they’ve been carefully chosen to showcase the capabilities of the new infrared telescope and its huge 6.5-metre gold-plated mirror.

The first is the Carina Nebula, a 50 light-year wide cloud of dust and stars 1000 light-years from Earth. It is one of the most beautiful objects in our galaxy. But it is also important to understand how we came into being. The colossal cloud of dust and gas is one of the most active star-forming regions discovered to date. It is likely that our solar system formed in a place like this.

Astrophysicist Prof Martin Barstow of the University of Leicester said: “With infrared you can penetrate through this dust and gas.

“It will give us a whole new perspective.”

According to Dr. Jeffery Kargel of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona, more than scientifically interesting.

“Not only are they beautiful, they are philosophically stunning and even spiritually disturbing as one contemplates the processes of creation and destruction and the almost certain origins of life on many, many planets around many stars in the nebula.”

Arguably the most dazzling target, little is known outside of astronomy.

SMACS 0723. Image: Space Telescope Science Institute

A region called SMACS 0723 where huge clusters of distant galaxies bend light due to their tremendous gravity. This “gravitational lens” brings the very first light in the universe into view.

We haven’t been able to see it before because the light is in the infrared spectrum — beyond the optics of the Hubble Space Telescope and invisible through our dusty atmosphere on Earth.

The prize, Prof Barstow said, is “first light”: the potential JWST must capture the very first light in the universe, which formed about 400 million years after the Big Bang.

“Webb is the only tool we have to do this,” said Prof. Barstow.

Will JWST be able to detect objects in the infrared gloom? We’ll have to wait to find out.

An entirely new view of a group of colliding galaxies called Stephan’s Quintet will be seen, as will the “cosmic smoke ring” left behind by an exploded star called the Southern Ring Nebula.

Stephen's Quintet.  Image: NASA
Stephen’s Quintet. Image: NASA
Southern Ring Nebula.  Image: NASA
The “cosmic smoke ring” left by an exploded star called the Southern Ring Nebula. Image: NASA

The last goal is tiny compared to the others. A planet called WASP-96-b, more than 1000 light-years from Earth, orbits a star very similar to our own sun.

It is hoped that measurements taken by the JWST on this planet will demonstrate its capabilities as a tool in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.

“It won’t be a visual spectacle, but it will be a scientific treasure,” said Dr. cargel

JWST will be able to study the chemistry of the planet’s atmosphere in unprecedented detail by photographing it as it passes in front of its star.

Don’t get too excited – WASP-96-b is a Jupiter-like planet very close to its star, so almost certainly scorching and lifeless.

These obscure objects in the night sky leave many people cold. But the excitement among astronomers, cosmologists and planetary scientists ahead of Tuesday’s big reveal is palpable.

“Buckle your brains, bolt the hatches and wait to get blown away. It will be a Category 5,” said Dr. cargel

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