From its position a million miles away, NASA James Webb Space Telescope it is revealing a universe that is richer and more mystifying than astronomers previously imagined, a cosmos that largely hides behind a veil of dust.
The largest space telescope in history, JWST, pierces that veil by capturing infrared light. Less energetic than the light our eyes can see, infrared light passes more easily through cosmic dust, and the telescope’s 21-foot-wide mirror can pick up this light from some of the most distant objects in the universe.
“Interstellar dust is more like smoke. It’s smaller than the dust particles on your shelf,” he says. jane rigby, the JWST Operations Project Scientist. “My dad is a firefighter, so I think of it like being in a smoky room with poor visibility.”
With his infrared eye, JWST can see through the wildfires of the universe. Launched less than a year ago and fully operational for just six months, the telescope is already revealing an astonishing array of cosmic objects.
During a recent meeting at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, scientists shared some of the first results of the observatory. These included distances to some of the most distant galaxies discovered so far, recently observed ancient star clusters, a cloud of water surrounding Saturn’s moon Enceladus, and symmetrical dust sheets engulfing a large, windy star: puffs of particles. which are regularly ejected by the star. itself.
Thomas ZurbuchenNASA’s chief science officer says watching the JWST peer through cosmic dust is a bit like watching the clouds clear from the top of a mountain in his native Switzerland.
“Suddenly the fog lifts and your heart beats faster,” he says. “It just takes your breath away. You see nature in incredible colors, and it is more beautiful than you ever imagined.”
Other images from the space observatory capture distant and primordial parts of the cosmos, like the first publicly released image: a small slice of sky. dotted with countless ancient galaxies. To make that image, the telescope stared into the dark for 12.5 hours, collecting infrared light that had been traveling through space for billions of years.
“The reason I felt so emotionally overwhelmed was the recognition that what I’m looking at has always been there, for billions of years, almost an overwhelmingly long time, and yet we hadn’t seen it,” Zurbuchen says. . “This is the beginning of a journey into the unknown, with a new set of eyes.”