The icing on the cake, the precision of its launch gives it a lifespan of at least 20 years, against a guaranteed minimum of ten.
“It behaves better than expected in every way,” Massimo Stiavelli, head of the mission at the Space Telescope Science Institute, which controls the operation of the observatory, told AFP: “The instruments are more efficient, the more precise and more stable. optics. .” An essential stability to achieve sharp images.
The general public also benefits, thanks to the coloring of the telescope’s output, whose images are normally invisible to the naked eye.
Unlike Hubble, which essentially observes the universe in the visible spectrum (that which is perceived by the human eye), James Webb “sees” in the infrared. A radiance that every body, from the stars to the flowers, emits naturally.
At this wavelength, James Webb can detect the faintest glows from the distant (and therefore old) Universe, pierce the dust veil that masks the star factory in a nebula or even analyze with its spectrographs the atmosphere of exoplanets.
The first “tests of the instrument for small rocky planets in the +habitable zone + potentially similar to Earth are spectacular”, says AFP Lisa Kaltenegger, professor of astronomy at the American University of Cornell.
James Webb’s flight aboard an Ariane 5 rocket in late 2021 crowned an odyssey begun by NASA more than 30 years ago.
After several setbacks, ten billion dollars and the work of 10,000 people, the telescope’s 6.2 tons succeeded in an operation of unprecedented complexity.
It was on the way to its final position that “Webb” deployed a sun visor the size of a tennis court, then the 6.5 meters in diameter of its main mirror.
After calibration, with a precision of less than a millionth of a meter, the mirror’s 18 petals began to collect the starlight.
On July 12, 2022, it delivered five images that symbolize its capabilities: a procession of thousands of galaxies, some dating back to shortly after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago, and a nursery of stars in the Carina Nebula.
Recently, Jupiter has emerged with a wealth of details that will help understand the inner workings of this gas giant.
“Excess” of galaxies
The public marvels at the shades of blue, red and gray offered by the image of the Pillars of Creation (giant pillars of dust where stars are born).
Scientists see it as a way to “revisit their models of star formation,” according to NASA.
In the fifth month of its observations, astronomers found the most distant galaxies ever observed, one of which existed only 350 million years after the Big Bang.
With a surprise: they look much brighter than theory predicted and could have formed earlier than expected.
“We have a + surplus + of galaxies compared to the models of the distant universe”, reports to AFP David Elbaz, scientific director of the astrophysics department at the Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (ECA).
Another surprise, when Hubble saw there “essentially irregularly shaped galaxies, James Webb’s precision makes them appear as magnificent spiral galaxies”, with a shape similar to ours. A kind of “universal model”, which is perhaps one of the keys to the formation of stars.
And an “abundance of small globular clusters”, populations of a few million stars, which may prove to be “a kind of missing link between the first stars and the first galaxies”.
In the area of exoplanets, we have obtained the first confirmation of the detection of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of Wasp 39-b, with possible photochemical phenomena in its clouds. These first observations give Massimo Stiavelli hope for “great things, not yet observed or yet revealed”.