The James Webb Space Telescope has already blown us away, mission team members said, but the best is yet to come from the observatory.
“We have a lot of great work coming out of the telescope,” Stephanie Milam James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) deputy planetary science project scientist, told the audience Tuesday (March 14) at the Southwest Conference and Festivals (SXSW) in Austin, Texas.
added Milam, of the Astrochemistry Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
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Hot, newly released JWST image of the WR 124And A strange, massive star has already shed about 10 times its own mass the sunAnd is one example. The magnificence of the image—taken this past summer, just after JWST began its science operations—demonstrates how the telescope’s near and mid-infrared instruments, combined with the superior optics of its 21.3-foot (6.5-meter) wide mirror, are able to show scientists details The astrologers had never seen her before.
In the case of WR 124, data from the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) reveal the clumpy structure of dust surrounding WR 124, allowing astronomers to better understand how the dust is produced. the size and amount of dust particles present, 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 And planets.
“One area where we really get a lot of new information is when stars are being 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 watch stars form our galaxybut even in other countries galaxies …and we’re getting these details now that we used to have just for our understanding of galaxies, and we’re now expanding into these other galaxies through being. It really is an exciting time to be a part of this field and understand how and how our sun was born The solar system was formedThis gives us our first real glimpse of it.”
By peering through the dusty clouds of gas that surround star-forming regions that are opaque at visible wavelengths of light, JWST’s infrared view is able to tease out these important details. But astronomers don’t just want to know how stars and planets form; They also want to know more about how they developed. This is where the observations of WR 124 come in – the central star that is emerging from the nebula’s outer layers has a mass 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 one starting point. “We’ll be observing the solar system with the James Webb Space Telescope, and we’ve done that,” Milam said. Great photos for MarsAnd Jupiter And Neptune Already released by the JWST team, plus notes DART effect on the asteroid Dimorphos in September 2022.
“We will monitor everything in our solar system that JWST can point to, from near Earth asteroidsAnd cometsAnd interstellar objectsall the planets and their satellites in the far reaches of our solar system, including our favorite little planet, PlutoSo, there’s more to come, Milam said.
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Outside our solar system, there are more planets orbiting other stars. more than 5,000 exoplanets Discovered so far, they range in size from huge giants larger than Jupiter to small worlds the size of Mars. However, the easier outer planets To study were hot Jupiters – Gas giants It orbits close to its host star, at an orbital radius of only a few million miles — because it produces the strongest signal.
Early exoplanet results for JWST also came from hot Jupiters – eg WASP-39b, a giant planet 700 light-years away. The James Webb telescope performs what’s called a transit spectroscopy, in which some of the star’s light passes through a planet’s atmosphere, when it passes (moves through) the face of its star. This light is absorbed by molecules within the planet’s atmosphere, 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 molecules involved — is the most detailed look at an exoplanet’s atmosphere yet.
“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 really didn’t expect to see,” said NASA’s Knicole Colon, who also spoke at the SXSW event and who is JWST’s deputy project scientist. for exoplanet science.
One such molecule, sulfur dioxide, was created in WASP-39b’s atmosphere by photochemical reactions. In other words, by the action of sunlight on atoms and molecules in the atmosphere.
“We literally didn’t think we’d be able to see [the results of these chemical reactions] Colon said: With JWST. “Although we knew it would be a great telescope, [the detection of sulfur dioxide was] Still much better than expected.”
This means that as the JWST studies and more and more exoplanets are marked, new and exciting discoveries will almost certainly be on the list, discoveries that will be able to teach astronomers about the formation and evolution of those planets. The mixture of gases in a planet’s atmosphere, for example, can give some indication of how far a planet is from its star.
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 from TRAPPIST-1 The system, for example, is continuous, but because these planets are much smaller than hot Jupiters and orbit a faint red dwarf star, it would take JWST much longer to extract details from their atmosphere, if they had one. However, in the next few years, some results from TRAPPIST-1 planets and other similar worlds could change the way we look at 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 those systems and say, ‘Do they have any similarities to Earth?'” I’m excited to see what we’ve learned about these planets the same size as ours. It may not always be the same temperature, it may not have surfaces with liquid oceans and all that, but we expect to learn more about the general atmosphere. Is water in the atmosphere? Is there carbon dioxide? Is there anything familiar to us that we can connect to and relate to to help us understand better [whether] Is there another life out there? “
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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 the door to huge new questions and challenges that lie ahead about whether or not life can exist on another planet,” Milam said.
Another mystery that captures the imagination just as much as the search for habitable exoplanets is the dark universe, specifically dark matterwhich is the mysterious substance responsible for the extra gravity observed in galaxies and galaxy clusters, and dark energyThe unknown force that drives the 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 and countless planets, all of which make up only about 5% of the entire universe. And the rest, the remaining 95%, we don’t know what it is.
Dark matter lies in invisible halos surrounding galaxies, leading Milam to describe dark matter as the “scaffolding” on which galaxies sit.
“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; That’s up to the particle physicists. But by observing dark matter’s behavior around galaxies, astronomers will be able to constrain some of its properties, which may 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 some giant leaps forward in our understanding.
Meanwhile, new discoveries from JWST keep coming.
“I can say we’ve had a lot of great work coming out of the telescope,” Milam says. “We have a waiting list of press releases for future publication coming out, so it’s a very exciting time. Every week we release something, so just stay tuned and I’m sure you’ll be amazed.”
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