NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Wednesday that the agency will reveal “the deepest image of our universe ever taken” on July 12, thanks to the newly operated James Webb Space Telescope.
“If you think about it, it’s further than what humanity has ever looked at,” Nelson said during a press conference at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. Operation Center For the $10 billion observatory, which launched in December last year and now orbits the sun a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) from Earth.
An engineering marvel, Webb is able to peer into the universe more than any telescope before it, thanks to his enormous primary mirror and his instruments focusing on infrared radiation, allowing him to peer through dust and gas.
“It will explore objects in the solar system and the atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, giving us clues as to whether their atmospheres are similar to ours,” added Nelson, speaking by phone while isolated with COVID.
“He might answer some of the questions we have: Where did we come from? What’s more? Who are we? And of course, he’ll answer some questions that we don’t even know what the questions are.”
Webb’s infrared capabilities allow us to see deeper in time for the Big Bang, which occurred 13.8 billion years ago.
As the universe is expanding, the light from the first stars travels from ultraviolet and Visible wavelengths Sent in, longer Infrared wavelengths—which Webb is equipped to detect with unprecedented accuracy.
At present, the oldest cosmic observations date back to within 330 million years of the Big Bang, but with Webb’s abilities, astronomers think they’ll easily break the record.
20 years old
In more good news, NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Milroy revealed that thanks to an effective launch by NASA partner Arianespace, the telescope could remain operational for 20 years, twice the life expectancy originally.
“Not only will those 20 years allow us to delve deeper into history and time, but we will go deeper into the science because we have the opportunity to learn, grow, and make new observations,” she said.
NASA also intends to share Webb’s first spectroscopic analysis of a distant planet, known as an exoplanet, on July 12, according to NASA chief scientist Thomas Zurbuchen.
Spectroscopy is a tool for analyzing the chemical and molecular composition of distant objects and a planetary spectrograph can help characterize its atmosphere and other characteristics such as whether it contains water and what its land is.
“From the beginning, we will look at these worlds that keep us awake at night as we look up at the starry sky and wonder as we look outside, Is there life elsewhere?” Zurbuchen said.
Previous spectroscopy of exoplanets conducted with existing instruments was too limited compared to what Webb could do, STSI astronomer Nestor Espinosa told AFP.
“It’s like being in a very dark room and only having a small hole you can look through,” he said of the current technology. Now, with Webb, “You open a huge window, you can see all the little details.”
© 2022 AFP
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