On Tuesday, July 12, 2022, astronomy will change profoundly and forever.
On this date, NASA, ESA (European Space Agency) and Canadian Space Agency (CSA) plan to release the “first light” photos of astronomy’s new state-of-the-art space observatory – the James Space Telescope. Webb (KWST or simply “Webb”).
This is despite the fact that the space observatory last week was hit by a micrometeoroid.
As soon as his first color images arrive, Webb, now a million miles from Earth, will instantly become an icon around the world.
“As we near the end of the observatory’s readiness for science, we are on the brink of an incredibly exciting period of discovery about our universe,” said Webb Program Scientist Eric Smith at NASA Headquarters. in Washington. “The release of Webb’s first color images will provide us all with a once-in-a-lifetime moment to stop and marvel at a sight mankind has never seen before.”
In the wake of Webb being fully deployeda successful alignment of its 21-foot/6.5-meter beryllium mirror – made up of 18 gold-coated hexagonal segments – and its great first line-up picsexpect to see a handpicked and carefully curated collection of images that Webb’s science team releases to announce that they have begun their observations.
Webb is up there looking for the “cosmic dawn” – the first stars – studying black holes and examining the atmospheres of exoplanets. However, the first batch of images are likely to be breathtaking images for all of us to enjoy.
It’s kind of a tradition for astronomers to celebrate the start of science operations on a new telescope with a selection of images to show off exactly what it can do.
While his alignment images were of targets in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC), a small satellite galaxy to the Milky Way, we don’t know exactly where Webb will be pointed at for these images, but we do know they will show all its four scientific instruments:
- NIR Cam (Near Infrared Camera): to detect the light of the first stars and galaxies. It has a coronagraph that can block light from a star, which helps in finding planets orbiting nearby stars.
- IRISS (Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph): for the detection of the “first light” of the first stars, and for the detection of exoplanets when they cross their star.
- NIR spec (Near InfraRed Spectrograph): a spectrometer to disperse light from an object into a spectrum. This instrument can observe 100 objects simultaneously.
- MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument): A camera and spectrograph that sees light in the mid-infrared region of the electromagnetic spectrum. Mainly for wide field astrophotography images better than Hubble.
It’s the MIRI camera that will probably give us incredible wide-field astrophotography images, better than Hubble’s.
“These images will be the culmination of decades of dedication, talent and dreams, but they will also be just the beginning,” Smith said.
NASA is tight-lipped on the exact targets, but expect to see some Hubble Vs. Webb images that show exactly what the new Infrared Space Telescope is capable of compared to the aging Ultraviolet/Visible Space Telescope.
Equally interesting will be the Spitzer against the Webb images which compare the original infrared space telescope to its successor, although it is also likely that we will see the Webb images in combination with these two telescopes and those of the Chandra X-ray Observatory.
What we do know is that the “first light” image pack will cover the full gamut of what Webb is here to accomplish, science – the early universe, the evolution of galaxies through time, the life cycle of stars and other worlds. Could we see a direct image of an exoplanet? It’s possible.
Webb’s images will be presented in color although they primarily observe in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. These wavelengths longer and redder than visible light mean Webb can image clouds of gas and break through the dust that obscures, for example, the inner regions of most nebulae and many stars in our own galaxies and in distant galaxies. Webb will also detect visible light in the red, orange, and up to the yellow portion of the visible spectrum.
So, for “first light” images, NASA’s image processing team will add color filters to help make the images more understandable and comparable.
By the time we see the images, the new space telescope will already be busy working on his scientific observations “Cycle 1”.
Webb is the most ambitious and complex space science telescope ever built, with a massive 6.5-meter primary mirror that will be able to detect faint light from distant stars and galaxies. It is designed only to detect infrared light emitted by distant stars, planets, and clouds of gas and dust.
He observes about a million kilometers from Earth, but will see the light of the first stars and the first galaxies.
I wish you clear skies and big eyes.
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