August 15, 2022
The "secret weapons" that make the telescope so powerful

The “secret weapons” that make the telescope so powerful

Finally, the James Webb Space Telescope is ready to do science. This Tuesday (12) NASA released its first “real” images: Distant galaxies, bright nebulae and distant gas giant planet. It’s the most accurate and profound image of the universe we’ve ever laid eyes on.

But this is just the beginning. With ultra-sensitive and advanced equipment, James Webb opens up a new era of astronomy. It works like a time machine, which can see what happened after the Big Bang, roughly 14 billion years ago. Your data will help us unlock the secrets of the formation of the universe and discover new worlds outside the solar system.

Understand what makes him so special and what he is capable of.

Revolutionary scientific discoveries

An engineering marvel, it is able to stare into space more than any other telescope, thanks to Huge main mirror and infrared focus toolsallowing your vision to pass through gases and cosmic dust.

We know that the Big Bang happened about 13.8 billion years ago, but we still don’t understand how it all happened since then. Since the light from stars and galaxies takes so long to reach us, what we see in Webb’s images is actually what they looked like thousands, millions, or even billions of years ago — depending on the distance.

Innovative tools

The telescope is equipped with Four cameras and spectrophotometers. These tools are able to work in a total of 17 different modes.

The most important and used, probably, is Nircam (Near infrared camera, or “near infrared camera”): An imaging technology that operates at frequencies in the visible and invisible spectrum, between 0.6 and 5 micrometers. For reference, the human eye can only see between 0.38 and 0.78 micrometers.

It has the ability to capture light emitted immediately after the Big Bang, including faint infrared emissions from the oldest galaxies and stars, which are only reaching us now. It is worth noting that the records were originally in black and white. It is then processed with filters to color it in and increase the visual contrast.

The other three tools are:

  • NIR (near infrared spectrometer, or “near infrared spectrometer”), capable of detecting the temperature and composition of distant stars;
  • Neres (Near infrared imager and slit spectrograph) for observing planets around bright stars;
  • Mary (Mid-infrared instrument or “mid-infrared instrument”), to see distant or newly formed galaxies, as well as smaller and fainter objects such as asteroids. It is the telescope sensor with the longest length of light, and it can pass through dust clouds most easily.

Latest technology

Some of the largest ground-based telescopes are made of segmented mirrors, but James Webb is the first to use this technology in space. Its base mirror, measuring 6.5 meters in diameter, is segmented into 18 hexagonal pieces of solid beryllium – one of the strongest, most stable and durable metals. It looks like a large reflective beehive.

Therefore, the calibration and testing phase took about six months: all parts had to be aligned as if they were one, with the precision of a human hair, to produce a uniform image of the star itself. Mission accomplished with more than success.

Sees more than Hubble

James Webb is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. For the past 32 years, Hubble has been our eyes in space, but it’s already feeling the weight of age, and it shows Several failures lately.

Not only will the new technology make images with greater resolution and clarity, but you’ll see things you’ve never seen before. Hubble, with a mirror “only” 2.4 meters in diameter, operates at both visible and ultraviolet light wavelengths, and only in a limited infrared range. That is, James Webb perceives light waves that are completely invisible to the ancestor.

Since infrared waves are longer, it is possible to see more, and thus see the past. The main goal is to record the first stars and galaxies in the universe, as well as to explore distant potentially habitable planets.

James Webb is a joint project of the space agencies of the United States (NASA), Europe (ESA), and Canada (CSA). It costs about US$10 billion (about R$55 billion) and has a “life expectancy” of ten years – but is expected to run longer.

Pictures have already been released

The first breathtaking images rendered reveal unprecedented detail five Objects Too Far (Can be downloaded in Ultra HD on the NASA website). are they:

Photo: cloning/NASA

The Carina Nebula: It is about 7,600 light years from Earth. Of the largest and most beautiful nebulae (“maternity hospitals” where stars are formed), with huge columns of dust and gas. The new image richly shows an area called the Cosmic Cliff, an amazing view of star birth.

July 12, 2022: Southern Ring Nebula: A planetary nebula, a gas cloud nebula, surrounding a dead star.  It is 2000 light years from Earth.  The image was taken by the James Webb Telescope - Disclosure / NASA - Disclosure / NASA
Photo: Disclosure / NASA

Southern Ring Nebula: It is about 2000 light years from Earth. It’s a huge glowing bubble, shaped like an “8” (which is why it’s also known as an “8”).eight blast”), around two stars – gas and dust are expelled by the younger star, which is dying.

12. July 2022: Stefan's Quintet: a group of five galaxies located in the constellation Pegasus, about 290 million light-years from Earth;  Image taken by James Webb - NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI - NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI
Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

pentagram of Stephan: It is about 290 million light-years away from Earth, in the constellation winged horse. It was the first compact group of galaxies ever discovered, in 1787, with five of them – stretching and pulling each other in a gravitational dance.

Image from the James Webb Telescope depicting the galaxy cluster known as SMACS 0723, in one of the deepest images of the universe ever - NASA, ESA, CSA and STScI - NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI
Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

SMACS 0723: Large groups of galaxies can act as a “cosmic magnifying glass”, magnifying and distorting the light of objects behind them. Thus, we can see a deeper field, including very distant and weak galaxies. This is the deepest and most accurate infrared record of space objects to date.

July 12, 2022: NASA provides details on what the James Webb Telescope has already recorded;  The image shows information about the light on WASP-96B (spectrum), an exoplanet made up of gas and 1,150 light-years from Earth.
Photo: cloning/NASA

WASP-96 b (spectrum): It is about 1150 light years from Earth. A giant planet, outside our solar system, made up mainly of gas. Discovered in 2014, it orbits its star every 3.4 days and accounts for about half the mass of Jupiter. The image is a spectroscopic analysis – like a barcode, which reveals the chemical composition of the atmosphere.