James Webb Telescope Will “Look Back in Time” and Snap the Deepest image of the Universe

According to NASA administrator Bill Nelson, the newly operational James Webb Space Telescope will capture the “deepest image of our universe ever taken” on July 12.

“If you think about that, this is farther than humanity has ever looked before,” Nelson said, during a press conference at the $10 billion observatory’s operations center in Baltimore. The observatory was launched last December and is now orbiting the Sun over a million miles away (1.5 million kilometers).

Webb’s massive primary mirror and infrared instruments enable it to peer through dust and gas further into the cosmos than any telescope before it, making it a wonder of engineering.

“It’s going to explore objects in the solar system and atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, giving us clues as to whether potentially their atmospheres are similar to our own,” added Nelson.

“It may answer some questions that we have: Where do we come from? What more is out there? Who are we? And of course, it’s going to answer some questions that we don’t even know what the questions are.”

As a result of Webb’s infrared imaging capabilities, it can peer back 12,8 billion years to the time of the Big Bang.

Because of the expansion of our universe, light from the earliest stars is seen to shift from the ultraviolet and visible wavelengths in which it is emitted to the longer infrared wavelengths that Webb is capable of detecting with an unprecedented level of resolution.

With Webb’s capabilities, astronomers expect to break the record for the earliest cosmological observations. At present, the earliest observations are within 330 million years of the Big Bang.


Double the life cycle

According to NASA deputy administrator Pam Melroy, the telescope could remain operational for 20 years thanks to an efficient launch by Arianespace, NASA’s partner in the project.

“Not only will those 20 years allow us to go deeper into history and time, but we will go deeper into science because we have the opportunity to learn and grow and make new observations,” she said.

According to NASA’s top scientist Thomas Zurbuchen, Webb’s first spectroscopy of a distant planet will be shared on July 12.

Inspecting a planetary spectrum can help characterize its atmosphere and other properties, including its ground texture and whether or not it has water. In addition, spectroscopy is a tool for characterizing distant objects’ chemical and molecular compositions.

James Webb's focus improves and the images get better as the mirror alignment process continues. Credit: NASA/STScl
James Webb’s focus improves, and the images get better as the mirror alignment process continues. Credit: NASA/STScl

“Right from the beginning, we’ll look at these worlds out there that keep us awake at night as we look into the starry sky and wonder as we’re looking out there, is there life elsewhere?” said Zurbuchen.

Nestor Espinoza, an astronomer at STSI, told AFP what Webb could do is far more advanced than what was previously possible using existing instruments.

“It’s like being in a very dark room and you only have a little pinhole you can look through,” he said, of current technology. Now, with Webb, “You’ve opened a huge window, you can see all the little details.”

A wonder of engineering

The James Webb Space Telescope is the largest telescope ever launched into space with a mass of 14,300 lbs (6,500 kg).

The James Webb Space Telescope offers infrared resolution and sensitivity, enabling a wide range of investigations in several fields, including astronomy and cosmology.

As noted by NASA, JWST’s primary mission is to investigate four main areas: first light, ionization, the formation of galaxies following the Big Bang, the birth of stars and protoplanetary systems, and planets as well as discovering the origin of life.

The spacecraft’s observational location at the second Lagrange Point (L2) is the perfect spot in outer space near Earth to observe the cosmos.

Scientists believe that JWST’s powerful optics complement Hubble’s celestial objects’ observations. As a result, NASA, ESA, and CASA collaborated intensively to develop the JWST, with over 300 universities, organizations, and companies participating across the globe.

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