On Tuesday, July 12, 2022, astronomy will change profoundly and forever.
On that date, NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) plan to publish “first light” photos from astronomy’s groundbreaking space observatory – the James Webb Space Telescope (KWST or simply “Web”). .
This despite the fact that the space observatory was there last week hit by a micrometeoroid.
Following the arrival of his first full-color images, Webb – now in a position one million miles from Earth – will become an instant icon around the world.
“As we approach the end of preparing the observatory for science, we’re on the brink of an incredibly exciting period of discovery about our universe,” said Eric Smith, Web Program Scientist at NASA’s Headquarters in Washington. “The release of Web’s first full-color images will offer a unique moment for all of us to stop and marvel at a view that humanity has never seen before.”
In the wake of Webb being fully deployeda successful alignment of its 21-foot / 6.5-meter beryllium mirror – consisting of 18 hexagonal gold-plated segments – and its fantastic first focus imagesExpect to see a collection of hand-picked and carefully processed images released by Webb’s science team to announce that they have begun their observations.
Webb is up there looking for “cosmic dawn” – the first stars – studying black holes and examining exoplanet atmospheres. But the first batch of pictures are likely to be amazing pictures for all of us to enjoy.
It is something of a tradition for astronomers to celebrate the start of scientific operations on a new telescope with a selection of images to show exactly what it can do.
Although its target images were of targets in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small satellite galaxy in the Milky Way, we do not know exactly what Webb will point to for these images, but we do know that they will showcase all four of its scientific instruments. :
- NIRCam (Near Infrared Camera): to detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies. It has a corona graph so that it can block a star’s light, which helps in the search for planets orbiting nearby stars.
- IRISS (Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph): for “first light” detection of the first stars and for detecting exoplanets as they cross their star.
- NIRSpec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph): a spectrometer for scattering light from an object to a spectrum. This instrument can observe 100 objects simultaneously.
- MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument): a camera and spectrograph that see light in the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Mainly for better than Hubble wide field disaster photography images.
It’s the MIRI camera that’s likely to give us incredible better than Hubble’s wide field disaster photography.
“These images will be the culmination of decades of commitment, talent and dreams – but they will also be just the beginning,” Smith said.
NASA is sticking to the exact targets, but expect to see some Hubble Vs. Web images showing exactly what the new infrared space telescope is capable of compared to the aging ultraviolet / visible space telescope.
Equally interesting will be Spitzer vs. Web images comparing the original infrared space telescope with its successor, but it is also likely that we will see Web images in combination with the two telescopes and those from Chandra X-ray Observatory.
What we do know is that the package of “first light” images will cover the full range of what Webb is up to achieve, science – the early universe, the evolution of galaxies over time, the life cycle of stars and other worlds. Can we see a direct image of an exoplanet? It is possible.
Web images will be presented in color even though they are mainly observed in the infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. These longer, redder wavelengths than visible light allow Webb to image clouds of gas and penetrate the dust that obscures, for example, the inner regions of most nebulae and many stars in both our own and distant galaxies. Webb will also detect visible light in the red, orange and up to the yellow part of the visible spectrum.
So for the “first light” images, NASA’s image processing team will add color filters to make the images more comprehensible and comparable.
When we see the pictures, the new space telescope will already be working with its scientific observations of “cycle 1”..
Webb is the most ambitious and complex space science telescope ever constructed, with a massive 6.5-meter primary mirror that will be able to detect the dim light from distant stars and galaxies. It is designed solely to detect infrared light emitted by distant stars, planets and clouds of gas and dust.
It observes from about a million miles from Earth, but will see light from the first stars and earliest galaxies.
Wish you clear skies and big eyes.
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