The James Webb Space Telescope team has released the first images taken by the instrument after its launch into space. These are snapshots of the sun-like star HD 84406 and a selfie of the main mirror.
It took 25 years for experts to create the James Webb telescope and finally, it was launched in late 2021. The flight from the Earth to the “workplace” at the second Lagrange point took 29 days – during this time, it managed to deploy all the main structural elements and enter the working orbit. The observatory is currently being put into operation: it will take three months to align the optical system, and another two months to calibrate scientific instruments.
To align the optical system of the telescope, scientists used the bright sun-like star HD 84406, located about 260 light-years from the Sun, in the constellation Ursa Major.
The first image, taken on February 2, 2022, combines 18 images of the star at once. This is due to the fact that the segments of the main mirror are not completely aligned. When alignment is complete, there will be only one image in the pictures. In addition to the HD 84406 image, the researchers released a selfie of the primary mirror taken with the camera of the NIRCam instrument.
What should we expect from the James Webb Space Telescope in terms of science?
If Hubble explores the Universe mainly in the optical range, capturing only the near-infrared and ultraviolet range, which border on visible radiation, then James Webb will concentrate on the infrared part of the spectrum, where older and colder objects are visible.
With the help of new advanced scientific instruments, scientists hope to answer many fundamental questions. Most of all, they concern exoplanets.
Although Kepler and Tess already discovered thousands of exoplanets, density estimates exist for only a small percentage of all confirmed objects. Meanwhile, these estimates allow us to understand what type the planet belongs to. If it has a low density, obviously, we have a gas giant in front of us.
If the celestial body has a high density, then most likely it is a rocky planet resembling Earth or Mars. Astronomers hope that James Webb will help gather more data on the masses and diameters of the planets, which will help calculate their density and determine their type.
Another important question concerns the atmospheres of exoplanets. Hubble and Spitzer have collected data on the gaseous envelopes of more than a hundred planets. James Webb’s tools will make it possible to increase this number by at least three times.
Thanks to scientific instruments and different modes of observation, astronomers will be able to determine the presence of a huge number of substances, including water, methane, and carbon dioxide – not only on large planets but also on terrestrial planets.
Ancient galaxies and first-generation stars from the time of the Big Bang
Another important target of the telescope will be ancient galaxies. Today we already know a lot about the surrounding galaxies, but still very little about those that appeared in a very young Universe.
Hubble can see the universe as it was 400 million years after the Big Bang, and the Planck Observatory observed cosmic microwave radiation that originated 400,000 years after the Big Bang. James Webb will have to fill the gap between them and figure out what galaxies looked like in the first 3 percent of cosmic history.
A separate item is the study of molecular clouds and protoplanetary disks. In the past, Spitzer could only look into the immediate vicinity of the solar system. Webb is much more sensitive and will actually be able to see the other edge of the Milky Way as well as its center.
Also, James Webb will look for hypothetical population III stars – these are very heavy objects in which there are almost no elements heavier than helium, hydrogen, and lithium. It is assumed that stars of this type should make up the first generation of stars after the Big Bang.
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• Fisher, A. (2022, February 11). Photons Received: Webb Sees Its First Star – 18 Times. NASA.
• Hicks, J. (2022, February 11). NASA unveils the james webb space telescope’s first images. The Verge.
• Hood, A. L. (2022, February 5). The james webb space telescope just detected its first signal. Futurism.