SpaceBack in pictures about the prowess of the James Webb Space Telescope
Since its installation 1.5 million kilometers from Earth this summer, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope has marked the year 2022 with exceptional images.
The James Webb Space Telescope, in place since the summer to observe the beginning of the universe and the atmospheres of distant planets, marked 2022 with exceptional images. Awaiting great discoveries in the coming years.
Since its installation 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, even still in operation, has already dazzled astronomers with images of unprecedented precision. 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 manages the operation of the observatory, told AFP: “The instruments are more efficient, the more precise and more stable. optics. “. An essential stability to obtain 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 observes the universe essentially in the visible spectrum (that which is perceived by the human eye), James Webb “sees” in the infrared. A radiation 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 the atmospheres of exoplanets with its spectrographs.
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 6.2-ton telescope has successfully completed an operation of unprecedented complexity.
It was on the way to its final position that ‘Webb’ installed a sun visor the size of a tennis court and then 6.5 meters in diameter on 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 light of the stars.
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 audience marvels at the shades of blue, red and gray on offer the image of the Pillars of Creation (giant columns 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 may have formed earlier than expected. “We have an ‘excess’ of galaxies compared to the models of the distant universe,” David Elbaz, scientific director of the astrophysics department at the Commissariat for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (ECA), reports to AFP.
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 could prove to be “a kind of missing link between the first stars and the first galaxies”.
In the field 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”.