The James Webb Space Telescope has already impressed us a lot, but the best is yet to come from the observatory, mission team members say.
“We have a lot of great work coming out of the telescope,” said Stephanie Milam. James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Associate Project Scientist for Planetary Sciences, told the audience Tuesday, March 14 at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Conference and Festivals in Austin, Texas.
“The scientific community has been working hard to analyze its own data and put it into peer-reviewed scientific publications, and it’s finally coming to fruition,” added Milam, of the Astrochemistry Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. .
Related: 12 amazing discoveries from the James Webb Space Telescope
Hot, newly released JWST image of the WR 124And A massive alien star has already lost about 10 times its mass the sunAnd It’s an example. The magnificence of the image — taken this past summer, just after JWST began its science operations — shows how the telescope’s near and medium infrared instruments, combined with its 21.3-foot (6.5-meter) ultrawide optics, are able to reveal the details of Astronomers have never seen it before.
In the case of WR 124, data from the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Medium Infrared Imaging Instrument (MIRI) reveal the clumpy structure of dust surrounding WR 124, giving astronomers a better understanding of how dust is produced, and the size and amount of dust. Dust particles exist, and how dust from other “Wolf-Rayet” stars contributes to the overall dust content of the Milky Way, which is then recycled into the next generation of stars. stars And planets.
“One area where we really get a lot of new information is when stars are born,” Milam said at the SXSW event. “[We’re] Understanding star formation in a way we’ve never been able to, with that whole new sensitivity and detail that we didn’t have before. We don’t just see stars forming our galaxyBut even in other countries galaxies … And now we’re getting these details that we previously only had for our understanding of galaxies, and we’re now expanding into these other galaxies through being. It is really an exciting time to be part of this field and to understand how and how our sun was born formation of the solar systemAnd that gives us a real glimpse into that.”
By peering through the dusty gas clouds covering star-forming regions that are opaque to visible wavelengths of light, JWST’s infrared view is able to reveal these important details. But astronomers don’t just want to know how stars and planets form; They also want to know more about their development. This is where the observations of WR 124 come in – the central star that separates the nebula from its outer layers is about 30 times the mass of our Sun and will eventually explode as Supernova. JWST also promises to do the same for planets.
The planets of our solar system are a starting point. “We’ll be observing the solar system with the James Webb Space Telescope, and we have it,” Milam said. great photos for MarsAnd Jupiter And Neptune These are already posted by the JWST team, along with notes carry dart on the asteroid Dimorphos in September 2022.
“We will monitor everything that JWST can indicate in our solar system, from Earth asteroidsAnd cometsAnd interstellar objectsAll the planets and their satellites to the far reaches of our solar system, including our favorite little planet, Pluto“So there’s more to come,” Milam said.
Related: Planets of the Solar System, Order and Composition: A Guide
Outside our solar system, there are more planets orbiting other stars. more than 5,000 exoplanets Discovered so far, they range from huge giants larger than Jupiter to small worlds the size of Mars. However, the simpler outer planets To study were hot Jupiters – Gas giants It orbits close to its host star, at orbital radii of just a few million kilometres, because it produces the strongest signal.
The first exoplanet results for JWST also come from hot Jupiters – for example WASP-39b, a giant planet 700 light-years away. JWST performs what’s called a transient spectroscopy, in which part of a star’s light passes through a planet’s atmosphere, when it passes (moves) the face of its star. Molecules in the planet’s atmosphere absorb this light, and different molecules absorb light at different wavelengths. The JWST spectrum of WASP-39b’s atmosphere — which shows absorption lines, which allow astronomers to identify the particles of interest — is the most detailed examination of an exoplanet’s atmosphere ever.
“We’ve already seen that the JWST data is so good and so accurate that we’re able to detect additional molecules in these distant exoplanet atmospheres that we didn’t really expect to see,” NASA’s Nicole Colon said. He spoke at the SXSW event and is a co-scientist with the JWST Exoplanet Science Project.
One such molecule, sulfur dioxide, was created in WASP-39b’s atmosphere by photochemical reactions. In other words, by the action of sunlight on the atoms and molecules of the atmosphere.
“Literally, we didn’t think we could see [the results of these chemical reactions] With JWST,” Colón said. Although we knew it would be a great telescope, [the detection of sulfur dioxide was] Much better than expected.”
This means that as the JWST studies and describes more and more exoplanets, exciting new discoveries will almost certainly be on the list, discoveries that could teach astronomers about the formation and evolution of these planets. The mixture of gases in a planet’s atmosphere can, for example, give an indication of how far away a planet formed.
Prior to JWST, studies of exoplanet atmospheres were limited to hot Jupiters, but JWST has now begun targeting smaller atmospheres, Earth-sized planets, also. Notes for rocky worlds TRAPPIST-1 The system, for example, is a work in progress, but because these planets are much smaller than hot Jupiters and orbit a faint red dwarf star, it would take JWST much longer to reveal details of their atmosphere, if it even had one. However, in the next few years, some results from TRAPPIST-1 planets and other similar worlds could change the way we perceive our own planet. Land in a cosmic context.
“We’re still in the early days of deciphering all the exoplanet data,” Colón said. “What we want to do is compare these systems and say, ‘Do they have any similarities to Earth?'” I’m excited to see what we learn about these planets that are about the same size as ours, maybe they don’t always have the same temperature, maybe they don’t have surfaces with ocean liquids and all that, but we expect to learn more about the general atmosphere. Is there water in the atmosphere? Is there carbon dioxide? Is there something familiar that we can connect to and relate to to help us understand better [whether] Is there another life? “
Related: The search for extraterrestrial life
Whatever those answers are, they are coming, and the next few years will be very exciting as JWST makes discoveries that could eventually become historic landmarks.
“The first two years of science with JWST will open up huge new questions and challenges for us about whether or not there is life on another planet,” Milam said.
Another mystery that captivates the imagination just as much as the search for habitable exoplanets is the dark universe, more precisely. black matterIt is the mysterious substance responsible for the extra gravity seen in galaxies and galaxy clusters, and dark energyThe unknown force driving the accelerating expansion of the universe.
“We think about 75% of the entire energy-matter content in the universe is this mysterious thing we call dark energy, and another 20% Is this other mysterious substance called dark matter,” Milam said. “When astronomers don’t know what something is, we call it dark. It’s amazing… hundreds of billions of galaxies, trillions of stars, countless planets, all of this is only about 5% of the entire universe. And the rest, the remaining 95%, we don’t know what it is.”
Dark matter resides in invisible halos surrounding galaxies, leading Milam to describe dark matter as the “scaffolding” on which galaxies rest.
“JWST will help us identify dark matter specifically,” Milam said. “By studying how galaxies change over time, we can learn more about dark matter.”
JWST won’t be able to detect what dark matter is; It depends on the particle physicists. But by observing dark matter’s behavior around galaxies, astronomers will be able to tease out some of its properties, which could help physicists determine its nature. Researchers have been asking this question since Vera Rubin first identified the existence of dark matter in the 1970s, and the James Webb telescope could help astronomers take huge leaps forward in our understanding.
Meanwhile, new discoveries from JWST continue to emerge.
“I can say we have a lot of great work coming out of the telescope,” says Milam. “We have a waiting list of press releases for future release, so it’s a very exciting time. Every week we release something, so stay tuned and I’m sure you’ll be amazed.”
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