5 Ways James Webb Space Telescope Can Change Science Forever

5 Ways James Webb Space Telescope Can Change Science Forever

Builds superior scientific tools gives us the opportunity to explore the universe like never before.

launch James Webb

NASA’s space telescope James Webb, which glitters in the sunlight as it retreats from sight of the final stage of the Ariane 5 rocket that fired it, is heading towards its final destination with perhaps the maximum amount of fuel we could have hoped for. Instead of the planned 5.5-10 years of scientific activity, we expect a lifespan of 20+ years for JWST.

(Credit: NASA TV / YouTube)

Now fully deployed and operationalJWST will soon start scientific activities.

This three-panel animation shows the difference between 18 unadjusted individual images, the same images after each segment was better configured, and then the final image where the individual images from all 18 of JWST’s mirrors had been stacked and merged. The pattern made by that star, known as the “nightmare snowflake”, can be improved with better calibration.

(Credits: NASA / STScI, compiled by E. Siegel)

Although many cosmic issues will surely be answeredthe greatest revolutions occur unexpectedly.

This is a simulated JWST / NIRCam mosaic generated with JAGUAR and the NIRCam image simulator Guitarra, at the expected depth of the JADES Deep program. It is quite likely that James Webb in his first year of science will break many records set by Hubble during his 32-year life, including records for the most distant galaxy and the most distant star.

(Credit: C. Williams et al., ApJ, 2018)

Here are five questions that JWST could conceivably respondchanges our cosmic notions forever.

Although the Spitzer (launched in 2003) was earlier than the WISE (launched in 2009), it had a larger mirror and a narrower field of view. Even the very first JWST image at comparable wavelengths, displayed next to them, can solve the same properties in the same region with an unprecedented precision. This is a preview of the science we will get.

(Credit: NASA and WISE / SSC / IRAC / STScI, compiled by Andras Gaspar)

1.) Are there biosignatures on nearby super-soils?


If there are other inhabited planets in our galaxy, the technology of the near future that will be at our disposal within this century, or perhaps even this decade, may first reveal it. Equipped with both a corona graph and enormous spectroscopic infrared capabilities, JWST can, if we are very lucky, find the first evidence of life beyond our solar system.

(Credit: NASA Ames / JPL-Caltech / T. Pyle)

If there are unexpected signs of life in the atmosphere of the super-earth worlds, JWST can reveal them.

When an exoplanet passes in front of its parent star, some of that starlight will filter through the exoplanet’s atmosphere, allowing us to break up the light into its constituent wavelengths and characterize the atom’s atomic and molecular composition. If the planet is inhabited, we can reveal unique biosignatures.

(Credit: NASA Ames / JPL-Caltech)

They would be our first ever elements of life outside the solar system.

When starlight passes through the atmosphere of a transiting exoplanet, signatures are embossed. Depending on the wavelength and intensity of both emission and absorption properties, the presence or absence of different atomic and molecular species within the atmosphere of an exoplanet can be detected by the technique of transit spectroscopy.

(Credit: ESA / David Sing / PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars (PLATO) mission)

2.) Are there pristine stars in ultra-distant galaxies?

The very first stars and galaxies to form should be home to Population III stars: stars made from only the elements that were first formed during the hot Big Bang, which consists exclusively of 99.999999% hydrogen and helium. Such a population has never been seen or confirmed, but some hope that the James Webb Space Telescope will reveal them. Meanwhile, the most distant galaxies are all very bright and inherently blue, but not completely untouched.

(Credit: Pablo Carlos Budassi / Wikimedia Commons)

By understanding and measuring second-generation stars, JWST was able to find additional first-generation star lights next to them.

An illustration of CR7, the first discovered galaxy to be considered to house Population III stars: the first stars ever formed in the universe. It was later established that these stars are, after all, not untouched, but part of a population of metal-poor stars. The very first stars of all must have been heavier, more massive and shorter in life than the stars we see today, and by measuring and understanding the light from the metal-poor stars we could dissolve all the extra light to search for evidence of a real untouched star population.

(Credit: ESO / M. Grain knives)

3.) Are black holes energetically active in dusty, early galaxies?


This artist’s impression of the dusty core of the galaxy-quasar hybrid object, GNz7q, shows a supermassive, growing black hole in the center of a dusty galaxy forming new stars at a cut of about ~ 1600 solar masses worth of stars per year: a speed that is about 3000 times as big as the Milky Way.

(Credit: ESA / Hubble, N. Bartmann)

By exquisitely measuring the energy that is re-radiated by dust, JWST was able to reveal shrouded supermassive black hole activity.

In this comparison view, Hubble data is displayed in violet, while ALMA data, which reveals dust and cold gas (which in itself indicates star formation potential), is superimposed in orange. It’s obvious that ALMA not only reveals features and details that Hubble cannot, but sometimes it shows the presence of objects that Hubble cannot see at all. With JWST data embedded, we may be able to identify whether black holes precede the presence of stars and galaxies themselves.

(Credit: B. Saxton (NRAO / AUI / NSF); ALMA (ESO / NAOJ / NRAO); NASA / ESA Hubble)

4.) Was the universe born with black holes?

kvasar-galaxy hybrid

This small piece of GOODS-N deep field, imaged with many observatories including Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, XMM-Newton, Herschel, VLT and more, contains a seemingly imperceptible red dot. That object, a quasi-galaxy hybrid from just 730 million years after the Big Bang, may be the key to unlocking the mystery of galaxy-black hole evolution. Once speculative, the evidence for the physical existence and omnipresence of black holes is now overwhelming.

(Credit: NASA, ESA, G. Illingworth (UCSC), P. Oesch (UCSC, Yale), R. Bouwens (LEI), I. Labbe (LEI), Cosmic Dawn Center / Niels Bohr Institute / University of Copenhagen, Denmark)

By examining the earliest galaxies, JWST will reveal their formation history.

If you start with a first, seed-black hole when the universe was only 100 million years old, there is a limit to how fast it can grow: the Eddington limit. Either these black holes begin larger than our theories expect, form earlier than we realize, or they grow faster than our current understanding allows to achieve the mass values ​​we observe. Investigating quasi-galaxy hybrids could be the key to unraveling this mystery.

(Credit: F. Wang, AAS237)

If black holes preceded the first starsJWST was able to detect the critical evidence.

Original black holes

If the universe was born with original black holes, a completely non-standard scenario, and if the black holes served as seeds for the supermassive black holes that permeate our universe, there will be signatures showing future observatories, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, will to be sensitive to.

(Credit: European Space Agency)

5.) How are galaxies created without dark matter?

Many nearby galaxies, including all galaxies in the local group (mostly grouped on the far left), show a relationship between their mass and velocity scattering that indicates the presence of dark matter. NGC 1052-DF2 is the first known galaxy to appear to be made of normal matter only and was later joined by DF4 2019. However, galaxies such as Segue 1 and Segue 3 are particularly rich in dark matter; there is a great variety of properties, and galaxies without dark matter are just poorly understood.

(Credit: S. Danieli et al., ApJL, 2019)

Both leading formation mechanisms require galactic interactions to distinguish dark matter from normal matter.

The galaxy NGC 1052-DF4, one of the two satellite galaxies in NGC 1052 that have been determined to be free of dark matter internally, shows some signs of being tidal; an effect that is more easily visible in the panel on the right when the surrounding light sources are carefully modeled and removed. Galaxies like this are not likely to live long in rich environments without dark matter to hold them together, but their formation mechanisms are still being discussed.

(Credit: M. Montes et al., ApJ, 2020)

If there’s more to the story, JWST will teach us.

galaxies without dark matter

In early 2022, for the first time, a cosmological simulation has produced galaxies that lack dark matter that match our observed galaxies that lack dark matter across a variety of properties. In the future, better observations and larger amounts of data will be able to test these predictions robustly and determine the effectiveness of the simulation.

(Credit: J. Moreno et al., Nature Astronomy, 2022)

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