It’s been five days since NASA’s $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope, a two-decade dream 1 million miles from Earth, proved it was working. And in fact, it works so flawlessly that his first ceremony photos are stunning. They are visceral masterpieces that compel us to contemplate the majesty of the universe and contemplate an insignificant corner within our solar system.
But what we saw on July 12, 2022 was only the preface of the JWST book. It will be the next chapters that will write his legacy.
While the telescope’s first full-color results are excellent, they only give a taste of the instrument’s capabilities. In truth, we may not even have the words to describe what’s to come, any more than the Hubble Space Telescope’s first light could foretell the wondrous deep fields that will one day plaster the walls of an astronomy department or the nebulae that will inspire poetry.
But we can draw conclusions Here are some glimpses of JWST’s future, as despite the telescope’s public proximity, scientists have been queuing for years to use it.
Now, researchers are ready to point it to phenomena that will blow your mind: supermassive black holes, collapsing galaxy mergers, luminescent binary stars emitting smoke signals, and even closer-to-home wonders like Jupiter’s icy moon Ganymede.
More specifically, the first few lucky scientists have proposals divided into six categories, each of which was carefully selected in November 2017 by the James Webb Space Telescope Advisory Committee and the Space Telescope Science Institute — to name more than 200 international projects separately. not possible. telescope and those willing to join the waiting list.
But the initial crew of JWST space explorers is set to be a win for both scientists and scope. These studies will create databases, benchmarks, useful life hacks, and simply prepare the powerful machine’s tools for whatever comes next. For great moments that will go down in history.
“To realize the full scientific potential of the James Webb Space Telescope, it is essential that the science community quickly learn to use its instruments and capabilities,” says a page on the Director’s Discretionary-Early Release Science Programs. researchers will test JWST for its first 5 months of scientific operations (after a 6-month telescope commissioning period).
Glancing through the list raised my expectations – and I’m sure it will raise yours too.
Here is a snippet.
Turn page for JWST
About 3.5 billion light-years away from Earth is a giant galaxy cluster called Abell 2744.
One might say that this perfect an early candidate for JWST because it is part of the ancient, distant universe. NASA’s next-generation telescope has a lot of infrared imaging equipment that can access light from deep space — something neither the human eye nor standard optical telescopes can see. This is a science exploration game made in heaven.
So a crew of researchers plans to observe what’s going on in this bright galaxy cluster, hidden from human vision but vital to astrophysical development.
They plan to use both JWST toolsCalled the Near-Infrared Spectrograph and the Near-Infrared Imager and the Slitless Spectrograph, both of which can just decipher the chemical composition of distant worlds stuck in the infrared zone we can’t pass through.
But JWST is more than just a visionary. It can also turn on reading glasses to scan nearby objects.
So another team is more interested in figuring out how to control events in our own cosmic neighborhood. Their plans say they will characterize Jupiter’s cloud layers, winds, composition, temperature structure and even auroral activity, the Jovian version of our northern lights.
In fact, this research bit is almost ready to use all JWST’s core infrared equipment: Nirspec, Niriss, as well as the Near Infrared Camera — JWST’s alpha imager — and, you guessed it, the Mid-Infrared Camera, which specializes in detecting mid-infrared light. “Our program will thus demonstrate the capabilities of the JWST instruments on one of the largest and brightest sources in the solar system and on very faint nearby targets,” they write in their abstract.
Next up are scientists who focus on dust. But not just any powder. Stardust.
We know that dust is a key ingredient in the formation of the stars and planets that decorate our universe, but we’re still hazy on the timeline they followed to get us to where we are today—especially since the vast amounts of dust that mattered to us were scattered throughout the early universe. And the first universe is lit only by infrared light.
Aha. Exactly what JWST can and will learn.
Unraveling the story of stardust means understanding the building blocks of our cosmic universe—much like how studying atoms unlocks knowledge of chunks of matter. And as Carl Sagan once said, “The cosmos is within us. We are made of stars. We are on a path for the universe to know itself.”
Perhaps JWST can help the universe in its introspective quest.
Wait until JWST sees it
Overall, over the past few months, I’ve witnessed a reoccurring feeling as a science writer. “Wait until the James Webb Space Telescope sees it.”
Not with those words, exactly, but definitely with that tone.
For example, in April, the Hubble Space Telescope reached a record-breaking milestone by providing us with a picture of the most distant star we’ve ever seen from the distant universe. A A star beauty named Earendelthis is appropriately translated as “morning star” in Old English.
“Studying Earendel will be a window into an era of the universe that we’re unfamiliar with, but that led to everything we know,” Brian Welch, one of Johns Hopkins University’s research astronomers, said in a statement.
But remember how JWST was armed to study the ancient, invisible universe? Exactly. The authors of the study will look at Earendele through JWST’s lenses, which will hopefully confirm whether it is indeed just a single stellar object and determine what type of dawn star it is.
JWST may also solve the mystery posed by Neptune, our solar system’s gaseous blue ornament: cold for no reason. But “the fine sensitivity of MIRI, the space telescope’s mid-infrared instrument, will provide unprecedented new maps of the chemistry and temperature of Neptune’s atmosphere,” said study co-author Leigh Fletcher Leicester, a planetary scientist at the university, in a statement.
There’s also the intrigue of deciphering the violent splendors of our cosmic universe: supermassive black holes — and even a strange, multibillion-year-old progenitor of a growing black hole.
“Webb will have the power to definitively determine how common these fast-growing black holes really are,” said Seiji Fujimoto, one of the research astronomers at the Niels Bohr Institute at the University of Copenhagen.
And finally, I’d say the most incredible thing about JWST—at least in my opinion—is that it’s the best opportunity we have right now to find evidence of extraterrestrial life. Foreigners.
Some scientists are even prematurely protected false positives organics that JWST’s software can pick up so as not to disturb the general public (me) when that day comes. But if that day comes, our jaws will undoubtedly drop and our heartbeats will unequivocally regard July 12 as a bland memory.
And even if that day doesn’t come, it won’t be long before NASA’s new space probe sends back a field-changing image like Hubble’s first deep field in 1995 — something we still don’t understand.