5 Ways The James Webb Space Telescope Could Change Science Forever

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Glistening in the sun as it recedes from view of the final stage of the Ariane 5 rocket that launched it, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is heading towards its final destination with perhaps the maximum amount of fuel than we could have hoped for. Instead of 5.5 to 10 years of planned scientific operations, we expect a lifespan of more than 20 years for the JWST.

(Credit: NASATV/YouTube)

Now fully deployed and commissionedJWST will soon begin scientific operations.

This three-panel animation shows the difference between 18 individual unaligned images, those same images after each segment has been better configured, and then the final image where the individual images from all 18 JWST mirrors have been stacked and co-added together. The pattern created by this star, known as the “nightmare snowflake”, can be improved with better calibration.

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

Although many cosmic questions will certainly be answeredthe greatest revolutions arise unexpectedly.

This is a simulated JWST/NIRCam mosaic that was generated using JAGUAR and the NIRCam Guitarra image simulator, at the expected depth of the JADES Deep program. It is highly likely that in his first year of science operations, James Webb will break many records set by Hubble over his 32 years (and counting), including records for the most distant galaxy and the farthest star.

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

Here are five questions that JWST could possibly answerforever changing our cosmic conceptions.

Although Spitzer (launched in 2003) predates 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 resolve the same features in the same region with unprecedented accuracy. This is a preview of the science we will have.

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

1.) Are there biosignatures on neighboring super-Earths?

extraterrestrial

If other inhabited planets exist in our galaxy, near-future technology that will be available to us in this century, or even this decade, may be able to discover them first. Equipped with both a coronagraph and enormous spectroscopic infrared capabilities, the JWST could, if we’re very lucky, find the first evidence of life beyond our solar system.

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

If unexpected signs of life exist in the atmospheres of super-Earth worlds, JWST may reveal them.

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

(Credit: NASA Ames/JPL-Caltech)

They would be our very first clues to life outside the solar system.

As starlight passes through the atmosphere of a transiting exoplanet, signatures are imprinted. Depending on the wavelength and intensity of emission and absorption characteristics, the presence or absence of various atomic and molecular species in the atmosphere of an exoplanet can be revealed through the spectroscopy technique of transit.

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

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

The very first stars and galaxies to form are expected to harbor population III stars: stars made up solely of the elements that first formed in the hot Big Bang, which are exclusively 99.999999% hydrogen. and helium. Such a population has never been seen or confirmed, but some hope the James Webb Space Telescope will reveal them. Meanwhile, the outermost galaxies are all very bright and inherently blue, but not quite pristine.

(Credit(Pablo Carlos Budassi/Wikimedia Commons)

By understanding and measuring second-generation stars, JWST might find additional first-generation starlight alongside them.

An illustration of CR7, the first detected galaxy believed to harbor Population III stars: the first stars ever formed in the Universe. It was later determined that these stars are not pristine after all, but are part of a population of metal-poor stars. The very first stars were expected to be heavier, more massive, and shorter-lived than the stars we see today, and by measuring and understanding light from metal-poor stars, we could disentangle any additional light to search for evidence of a truly pristine stellar population.

(Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

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

GNz7q

This artist’s impression of the dusty core of the galaxy-quasar hybrid object, GNz7q, shows a growing supermassive black hole at the center of a dust-rich galaxy forming new stars at a clip of about 1600 solar masses stars per year: a rate that is about 3,000 times greater than that of the Milky Way.

(Credit: ESA/Hubble, N. Bartmann)

By accurately measuring the energy re-emitted from the dust, JWST could reveal shrouded supermassive black hole activity.

In this comparison view, Hubble data is shown in purple, while ALMA data, revealing dust and cold gas (which themselves indicate star formation potential), is overlaid in orange. Obviously, ALMA not only reveals features and details that Hubble can’t, but sometimes it shows the presence of objects that Hubble can’t see at all. With the integrated JWST data, we might be able to identify whether black holes predate 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?

quasar-galaxy hybrid

This tiny fragment of the GOODS-N deep field, imaged by many observatories including Hubble, Spitzer, Chandra, XMM-Newton, Herschel, the VLT and many others, contains a seemingly unremarkable red dot. This object, a quasar-galaxy hybrid dating to just 730 million years after the Big Bang, could hold the key to unraveling the mystery of galaxy-black hole evolution. Once speculative, the evidence for the physical existence and ubiquity 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 investigating the first galaxies, JWST will reveal their history of formation.

If you start with an initial black hole, when the Universe was only 100 million years old, there’s a limit to how fast it can grow: the Eddington limit. Either these black holes start bigger than our theories predict, form sooner than we realize, or they grow faster than our current understanding allows them to reach the mass values ​​we observe. Examining quasar-galaxy hybrids may hold the key to unraveling this mystery.

(Credit: F. Wang, AAS237)

Whether black holes preceded the first starsJWST could uncover the essential evidence.

primordial black holes

If the Universe was born with primordial black holes, a completely non-standard scenario, and if those black holes served as the seeds for the supermassive black holes that permeate our Universe, there will be signatures that future observatories, like the space telescope James Webb, will be sensitive to.

(Credit: European Space Agency)

5.) How are galaxies made without dark matter?

Many nearby galaxies, including all the galaxies in the Local Group (mostly clustered on the far left), display a relationship between their mass and scattering rate that indicates the presence of dark matter. NGC 1052-DF2 is the first known galaxy to appear to be composed entirely of normal matter, and was later joined by DF4 in 2019. Galaxies like Segue 1 and Segue 3, however, are particularly rich in dark matter; there is a great diversity of properties and galaxies without dark matter are only poorly understood.

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

The two main formation mechanisms require galactic interactions separate dark matter from normal matter.

Galaxy NGC 1052-DF4, one of two satellite galaxies of NGC 1052 determined to have no dark matter in its interior, shows evidence of being tidally disturbed; an effect more easily seen in the right panel, once surrounding light sources are accurately modeled and removed. Such galaxies are unlikely to live long in rich environments without dark matter to hold them together, but their formation mechanisms are still debated.

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

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

galaxies without dark matter

In early 2022, for the first time, a cosmological simulation produced dark matter-deficient galaxies that match our observed galaxies that lack dark matter in a wide variety of properties. In the future, better observations and larger datasets will test these predictions robustly and determine the effectiveness of the simulation.

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

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