“Wait until your mind is blown”: the James Webb Space Telescope to show the universe as it has never been seen before | Scientific and technical news | Top stories

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Ahead of the biggest first the world of astronomy has ever seen, NASA has released the cosmic A-list that will appear through the lens of its colossal new space telescope.

And it’s not just the stars. There are galaxies, a planet too, and what promises to be the deepest view into time that humanity has ever achieved.

On Tuesday, the first images from the $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be shared with the world.

Only a handful of the thousands of scientists and engineers working on the project have seen them. But the words “spectacular” and “magnificent” are whispered among those who have.

In a teaser ahead of the main release, NASA, the European and Canadian space agencies, which collaborated on the JWST, released a list of the five places in the universe that were imaged by the telescope first.

The locations aren’t exactly household names, but they’ve been carefully chosen to showcase the capabilities of the new infrared telescope and its massive 6.5-meter gold-plated mirror.

The first is the Carina Nebula, a cloud of dust 50 light years and stars 1000 light years from Earth. It is one of the most beautiful objects in our galaxy. But it’s also important for understanding how we came to exist. The colossal cloud of dust and gas is one of the most active star-forming regions discovered to date. It is probably our solar system that formed in a place that looks like it.

Astrophysicist Professor Martin Barstow from the University of Leicester said: “Infrared allows you to penetrate through this dust and gas.

“It will give us a whole new perspective.”

Star-forming regions are more than scientifically interesting, according to Dr. Jeffery Kargel of the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, Arizona.

“They are not only beautiful, but they are philosophically stunning and even spiritually moving when you reflect on the processes of creation and destruction, and the almost certain origins of life on many, many planets around many stars in the nebula. “

Perhaps the most breathtaking target is a little-known target outside the realm of astronomy.

Image:
SMACS 0723. Photo: Space Telescope Science Institute

A region called SMACS 0723, where massive clusters of distant galaxies act to bend light due to their enormous gravity. This “gravitational lens” highlights the very first light in the universe.

We haven’t been able to see it before because the light is in the infrared spectrum – beyond the optics of the Hubble Space Telescope and invisible through our dusty atmosphere on Earth.

The prize, Professor Barstow said, is “first light”: the potential for JWST to capture the very first light in the universe that emerged some 400 million years after the Big Bang.

“Webb is the only tool we have to do this,” Professor Barstow said.

Will JWST be able to distinguish objects in the infrared penumbra? We’ll have to wait to find out.

An entirely new view of a group of colliding galaxies called Stephan’s Quintet will be shown, along with the “cosmic smoke ring” left behind by an exploded star called the South Ring Nebula.

Quintet by Stephan.  Photo: NASA
Image:
Stephan Quintet. Photo: NASA
South Ring Nebula.  Photo: NASA
Image:
The “cosmic smoke ring” left behind by an exploded star called the South Ring Nebula. Photo: NASA

The final target is tiny compared to the others. A planet called WASP-96-b, more than 1000 light-years from Earth, orbits a star very similar to our own Sun.

It is hoped that JWST’s measurements on this planet will prove its capabilities as a tool to search for life elsewhere in the universe.

“It won’t be a visual spectacle, but it will be a scientific treasure,” Dr. Kargel said.

JWST will be able to study the chemical composition of the planet’s atmosphere in unprecedented detail by imagining it as it passes in front of its star.

Don’t get too excited – WASP-96-b is a Jupiter-like planet very close to its star, so almost certainly hot and lifeless.

These dark objects in the night sky can leave quite a few people cold. But the excitement among astronomers, cosmologists and planetary scientists ahead of Tuesday’s big reveal is palpable.

“Tie down your brain, batten down the hatches and wait for your mind to be blown away. It will be a Category 5,” Dr. Kargel said.

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