As humans, we have a natural curiosity about our origins and place in the universe. We seek answers to fundamental questions like how we got here, whether we are alone in the vastness of space, and how the universe operates. The James Webb Space Telescope is an exciting and ambitious scientific mission that aims to shed light on these mysteries.
The James Webb Space Telescope (Webb or JWST) is a powerful tool for scientific discovery, providing new insights into galaxies, planets, stars, and other celestial objects. Launched in December 2021, the telescope is expected to operate for 20 years, opening up new frontiers in space exploration. James Webb Space Telescope is the successor to the Hubble Telescope and has drawn a lot of interest from people all over the world.
Stefanie Milam, the JWST deputy project scientist for planetary science, shared at the South by Southwest Conference and Festivals that the telescope is producing impressive results. “We have a lot of fantastic work that’s coming out from the telescope,” she said. She also mentioned that the telescope will observe various objects within our solar system, including near-Earth asteroids, comets, planets, and even Pluto.
Here are some of JWST’s most exciting discoveries:
1. THE PILLARS OF CREATION:
The James Webb Space Telescope has captured a breathtaking image of the Pillars of Creation in the Eagle Nebula, revealing the birth of new stars. While the Hubble Space Telescope could only show the impressive cloud structure of the Pillars, Webb’s infrared imaging unveiled the protostars inside them.
The image, created using different colors to represent mostly invisible infrared wavelengths, not only showcases Webb’s capabilities but could also help us understand how stars form, including our sun. The red dots in the image are collections of dust and gas, each many times larger than our solar system, where stars are being born.
2. First Image Of Exoplanet:
The Webb telescope has captured its first direct image of an exoplanet, HIP 65426 b, which was discovered in 2017. This is a significant moment for astronomy as most exoplanets can only be detected through a dip in the light of their host star. Using Webb’s cameras, filters, and coronagraphs, scientists were able to observe the planet, which is 100 times the distance from our sun to Earth and 12 times the size of Jupiter. This discovery has the potential to transform our understanding of exoplanets.
NASA’s Webb telescope also found a named LHS 475 b, which is almost the same size as Earth but much hotter and completes its orbit in just two days. It’s located in the Octans constellation and is relatively nearby, at a distance of 41 light-years.
3. Wolf Rayet Stars
Recently, the Webb telescope took a picture of two Wolf-Rayet stars.
One of these images displayed the telescope’s diffraction pattern, a common artifact in imaging. However, surrounding the star, named WR140, was an unexpected pattern of concentric rings with a unique, slightly square shape, resembling ripples. Unlike the diffraction pattern, these peculiarly shaped rings are actual features.
James Webb Space Telescope captured the Wolf-Rayet star WR 124 in unprecedented detail. This recent image of WR 124 is a ground-breaking discovery which will help scientists understand the structure and place of cosmic dust in the universe.
4. Titan’s Clouds
Saturn’s moon Titan has a unique composition, with water ice rocks and lakes and seas made of liquid methane and ethane. It also has a thick atmosphere that is hazy with methane clouds. NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope captured atmospheric data from Titan in November, which revealed two clouds, including one over the moon’s largest sea, Kraken Mare. Follow-up observations by the Keck Observatory in Hawaii showed a different-shaped cloud in the same location, suggesting the possibility of a changing cloud or a new cloud moving in. This data could help scientists map Titan’s haze and discover new gases in its atmosphere.
5. The Southern Ring Nebula
For a long time, scientists considered the Southern Ring Nebula as a rather ordinary dying star, known as a white dwarf, which had shed its outer layers that emitted a bright glow of energy. Additionally, they were aware that a non-dying star, belonging to a binary system, was concealed beneath the brightly lit gas. However, the first images and data released by Webb revealed that the situation was not as straightforward as initially thought.
Webb utilized two instruments, the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) and the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), to image the cloud. The MIRI provided a surprising discovery that the white dwarf was not invisible, as previously presumed in that wavelength, but was radiating a red glow, encompassed by a haze of cool gas. The only logical explanation that scientists could deduce was that a third star was present, hidden within the nebula, which was the source of the gas.
6. Colliding Galaxies
Webb’s infrared capability allows it to see through dust, revealing hidden objects that Hubble cannot. In a recent image of two colliding galaxies, Webb discovered an area of intense star formation, producing stars 20 times faster than in our galaxy, which Hubble missed. The area was hidden behind a layer of dust, and Webb’s image shows a new layer of the galaxy. The merging of the galaxies may also be creating a supermassive black hole, although it is not visible in the Webb image.
7. The Phantom Galaxy
The Phantom Galaxy, also known as M74, is a visually stunning spiral galaxy captured in optical images by Hubble. However, a new image taken by Webb in infrared has revealed heat-emitting dust and gas in fiber-like structures emanating from a bright center, shedding light on star-forming regions within the galaxy’s spiral arms. A composite image created by the European Space Agency showcases both optical and infrared observations of the galaxy, combining images from Hubble and Webb. This is part of the PHANGS project, which aims to capture 19 nearby star-forming galaxies in infrared using Webb, Hubble, and ground-based telescopes.
8. Brown Dwarfs
The Webb telescope was not initially designed to identify exoplanets, but it recently made an intriguing discovery. VHS 1256 b, the object that Webb observed, is not actually a planet, but rather a brown dwarf. Brown dwarfs are larger than planets but not large enough to be considered proper stars. This particular brown dwarf emits a dim, reddish glow as a result of a modified form of fusion that occurs on massive objects that are too small to fuse hydrogen. What makes VHS 1256 b especially peculiar is that Webb detected sandy, silicate clouds on its surface, which is the first time this has been observed in a brown dwarf. Additionally, the brown dwarf is relatively small for its type and thus quite young. Webb was able to analyze the brown dwarf’s atmosphere and identify specific chemicals such as water, methane, carbon dioxide, and potassium.
9. Study Of Dark Matter
The enigma surrounding dark matter and dark energy is as fascinating as the quest for habitable exoplanets. Dark matter is a mysterious substance that seems to account for the extra gravitational force observed in galaxies and galaxy clusters, while dark energy is an unknown force driving the acceleration of the universe’s expansion.
According to Milam, about 75% of the universe’s energy-matter content is dark energy, and another 20% is dark matter. These mysterious substances are labeled as “dark” because astronomers do not know what they are. In fact, the billions of galaxies, trillions of stars, and countless planets only make up about 5% of the entire universe, while the rest, 95%, remains a mystery.
Dark matter is believed to exist in invisible haloes that surround galaxies, providing the “scaffolding” in which galaxies are suspended. While the JWST (James Webb Space Telescope) will not be able to discover what dark matter is, it can provide valuable insights into its behavior around galaxies, which can help constrain some of its properties.
Milam believes that studying how galaxies change over time and using the JWST will aid in learning more about dark matter. This information could help particle physicists identify the nature of dark matter, as understanding how it behaves around galaxies could provide valuable clues to its composition.
James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is poised to revolutionize our understanding of the universe and unlock some of its deepest secrets. With its advanced technology and cutting-edge instruments, it will allow scientists to observe the cosmos in unprecedented detail, from the earliest galaxies to the formation of planets and the search for life beyond our solar system. As the largest and most complex space observatory ever built, the JWST represents a major milestone in our quest to explore the universe and expand our knowledge of its wonders. With its launch scheduled for later this year, the world eagerly awaits the groundbreaking discoveries that await us.