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Unveiling the continued rewards of the James Webb Space Telescope

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The story of Christmas encompasses a miraculous astronomical sight. But this Christmas, we’re blessed with an abundance of latest miraculous visions from the skies, courtesy of the James Webb Space Telescope, which lifted off on Christmas Day two years in the past … from Jupiter and its rings (a mere 385 million miles away), to the Carina Nebula (7,500 light-years away), the Phantom Galaxy (32 million light-years away), and the deepest areas of house (13 billion light-years away). The Phantom Galaxy, as photographed by the James Webb Space Telescope.  NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI In 1989, NASA started occupied with a successor to the Hubble Telescope. The new machine would have huge gold-plated lenses that might detect infrared mild – invisible to our eyes, however able to passing via mud and gases, 100 occasions farther into the universe. The Webb would even be a lot larger than the Hubble: three tales tall and 70 ft broad, too large to suit into any present rocket. NASA’s answer? Fold it up.Scott Willoughby oversaw the Webb’s building at Northrup Grumman. Ten days earlier than launch in 2021, he defined to “Sunday Morning” the complexity of the unfolding course of: “They have issues which are known as single-point failures – this has to maneuver this manner, and there is solely one in all ’em. And Webb has over 300 of these.” Three hundred issues that needed to go precisely proper. It took nearly seven months for the telescope to unfold, calibrate, and attain its orbit, 1,000,000 miles from Earth. So now, on the second anniversary of the launch, we requested the way it went. “It actually went good, as near good as one might’ve even imagined,” Willoughby mentioned. “People really requested after, ‘Did you overblow how laborious this was?’ And the reality was, working towards for every part as if it might go mistaken was the very best preparation for making it go proper.” The galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, as captured by the James Webb Space Telescope.  NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI Because infrared is a type of warmth, it needed to get chilly—minus 400 levels. Even the solar’s warmth would blind the telescope to the faint infrared indicators from house. And so, a big solar defend – an umbrella, principally – was deployed to dam out any shred of the solar’s mild from reaching the telescope’s lenses. “There’s just one star in the complete universe we’ll by no means see, and it is ours, it is the solar,” Willoughby mentioned. Finally, the science might start. At NASA’s Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Jane Rigby, the Webb’s chief scientist, talks to the telescope from the flight management room, drawing the info that has been collected. “The elevator pitch for the Webb Telescope was to get the newborn photos of the universe,” Rigby mentioned. “We have delivered precisely what we promised on that matter. We’ve gone from principally ignorance about what that first billion years of the universe was like, to having it in crisp excessive definition.” Another Webb mission: analyzing distant planets, to see if any of them have atmospheres like ours, perhaps to seek out one human beings might stay on. But how can a telescope know what’s in a distant planet’s ambiance? Turns out, when a planet passes in entrance of its star, the weather of its ambiance—oxygen, nitrogen, no matter—block particular bands of sunshine. Analyzing how the spectrum of sunshine modifications can reveal what the ambiance of that planet is like.The Webb has already studied the atmospheres of dozens of distant planets. On one, the exoplanet K2-18 b, it discovered carbon dioxide and methane, which means that it has oceans. [It’s a mere 120 light-years from Earth.]Rigby mentioned, “It’s such a pleasure that this telescope is working so properly, as a result of it was constructed rather well by the engineers.”But not all of the Webb headlines have been triumphant. One, in June 2022, did not sound good in any respect:But Scott Willoughby was not anxious: “We designed the mirrors to get hit by micrometeorites – you understand, small particles, say grain of sand or one thing like that. But whenever you’re really speaking about one small spot in one thing 22 ft throughout? The affect of it was actually irrelevant. It really did not affect science in any respect.” But there have been additionally some questions concerning the pictures. Was NASA manipulating them? Colorizing them? NASA picture consultants Joe DePasquale mentioned, “That query really comes up so much: ‘Is what Webb sees actual?'” He and Alyssa Pagan can reply questions on colorizing, as a result of they’re those who do it. “It’s our job to have the ability to translate that mild into one thing that our eyes can see,” DePasquale mentioned. As it seems, there’s quite a lot of mild that folks cannot see, like ultraviolet mild, which bees can see; or infrared mild, which pit vipers can see. Ultraviolet mild travels in very quick waves; infrared waves are for much longer. And that is what guides the colorizing course of.Pagan mentioned, “We’re taking the shortest wavelengths, making use of the bluer shade; the center wavelength, that is the inexperienced; after which the longest wavelength will get assigned the pink. This is what we expect is the truest illustration of what we might probably see, if we might see an infrared mild.” Colorizing the totally different wavelengths of sunshine from a pair of actively forming stars, Herbig-Haro 46/47. NASA, ESA, CSA, Joseph DePasquale (STScI), Anton M. Koekemoer (STScI) In simply the primary yr of Webb observations, scientists printed greater than 600 papers primarily based on its discoveries. And in response to Willoughby, the telescope has yet one more little present for us this Christmas: “When we launched, we by no means needed to right our personal rocket engines,” he mentioned. “We saved all of that gasoline, and successfully on Day One, doubled the launch of the mission from ten years to twenty.”So, for at the very least 20 years, scientists around the globe will preserve peeling again the mysteries of the universe, and the Webb will preserve sending again photos that amaze and amuse us, from the optical quirk often known as the query mark… to the galaxy cluster that NASA calls the “Christmas Tree,” and past.      For extra data:      Story produced by Young Kim. Editor: Karen Brenner.  More David Pogue David Pogue is a six-time Emmy winner for his tales on “CBS Sunday Morning,” the place he is been a correspondent since 2002. He’s additionally a New York Times bestselling writer, a five-time TED speaker, and host of 20 NOVA science specials on PBS. For 13 years, he wrote a New York Times tech column each week — and for 10 years, a Scientific American column each month.

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