by Fraser Hibbitt for the Carl Kruse Blog
After months of calibration, of learning how to translate what it sees to the scientists back on earth, the James Webb is now performing its duties a million miles from Earth. In early July of this year, President Joe Biden surprised viewers by unveiling an image created by the James Webb telescope. A few days later, the ‘republic of letters’, working on the received data from the James Webb, revealed the first images of Webb’s space to the public: ‘jaw-dropping’, ‘sublime’, ‘wondrous’. The stuff of space appears in inhuman distances and in our love of sublime beauty, even if, for the most part, lettered in practicality: NGC 628, for example. There is not much a non-scientist can do with it, but feel quite astounded and wait for explanations.
Peering into the cosmic dawn, James Webb is reaching back to some of the earliest galaxy formations after the Big Bang in hopes of comprehending the nature of their evolution. What sets the James Webb apart from its predecessor, the Hubble, is the detail it has managed to produce. By the use of its Near-Infrared camera, it is able to illustrate the universe in greater detail; it is also not deterred by the masses of dust that obscured light for the Hubble’s camera. However, it is not so much an update of the Hubble but a partner in illustrating the universe, a duo of different cameras; all the initial images of James Webb can be compared with their counterpart from the Hubble.
What have we seen, then. The Southern Ring Nebula at two thousand light years away. It is actually the dust thrown off from a dying red giant; the shells of gas expand out in that incredible display of senescence. The Carina Nebula, seven and half thousand light years away. These ‘cosmic cliffs’ show a hot bed of activity for this is a nebula proper; a birth place of stars, where cosmic radiation falls onto the ‘cliffs’ while hot ionised dust meets it. Three hundred million light years away, the Stephans Quintet; five galaxies in ‘close’ proximity, two in the process of merging. Finally, the image which shows galaxies of potentially over thirteen billion years old; it appears to us flashing with immediacy; an abstract tour back in time.
The information from the James Webb will continue to satisfy, surprise, bewilder and awe the scientists and enthusiasts interested in the complexity of our universe. The international effort of crafting the James Webb continues to be put into practice with their ‘anonymous proposals scheme’ which invites anyone with interest to submit a proposal for a field of study whilst the telescopes is steeped in the silence, far from Earth. Already plans to study TNO’s (Trans-Neptunian Objects) of our own solar system has gained ground, whilst the study of exo-planets has not been forgotten; the Trappist-1 star being at the forefront with its possible three planets orbiting in the ‘habitable zone’.
It was impossible to predict the findings of the Hubble, and so too do we expect the un-predictable from James Webb. Considering its efficiency in reaching Lagrange point II, James Webb may maintain itself for another ten to fifteen years. It will continue to scour the heavens, orbiting alone as some detached eye, ever-fascinating us with those red lights of the cosmic dawn, and all of that which we hope to fathom in-between.
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An earlier article on the James Webb telescope is here.
Other articles on space exploration include those on the Tess Mission, Aviation’s Story, and a new Space Race.
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