Webb telescope
Webb telescope

James Webb Telescope will do galaxy deep dive into dust

One of the James Webb Telescope first studies will seek to tell us more about 19 nearby galaxies and how they fit into our neighborhood’s history.

The infrared images taken from deep space will allow Webb telescope data to add galactic information about star formation, strong winds blowing off these stars to disturb gas and dust, and mature stars potentially hiding in spiral galaxies.

It will have longer wavelength coverage and greatly improved sensitivity. The longer wavelengths enable Webb telescope to look further back in time to find the first galaxies that formed in the early Universe, and to peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.

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Webb telescope is currently in the middle of a commissioning period, with engineers focused on getting its 18 hexagonal mirrors into alignment and slowly testing and turning on the instruments. That work is going well so far, NASA has said, and the expectation is Webb telescope will begin science observations in the summer.

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Webb telescope is designed to look deeper into space to see the earliest stars and galaxies that formed in the Universe and to look deep into nearby dust clouds to study the formation of stars and planets.

“JWST touches on so many different phases of the stellar life cycle — all in tremendous resolution,” Janice Lee, Gemini Observatory chief scientist at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab in Arizona, said of the new study in a statement. “Webb telescope will reveal star formation at its very earliest stages, right when gas collapses to form stars and heats up the surrounding dust.”

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The primary goals of Webb telescope are to study galaxy, star and planet formation in the Universe. To see the very first stars and galaxies form in the early Universe, we have to look deep into space to look back in time (because it takes light time to travel from there to here, the farther out we look, the further we look back in time).

The multi-wavelength galaxy survey program is known as PHANGS (Physics at High Angular Resolution in Nearby Galaxies). The program includes 100 specialists worldwide who are seeking to understand star evolution, from youngsters to maturity and beyond.

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Webb telescope is designed to discover and study the first stars and galaxies that formed in the early Universe. To see these faint objects, it must be able to detect things that are ten billion times as faint as the faintest stars visible without a Webb telescope. This is 10 to 100 times fainter than Hubble can see.

The galaxies under consideration are visible face-on from Earth and on average, about 50 million light-years away. Multiple observatories have already studied these galaxies, each bringing their own talents to the analysis.

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That includes the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) in Chile, which has studied 90 galaxies in microwave light, letting astronomers map which molecules are found where.

Webb telescope cannot directly see “dark matter,” the unseen matter that makes up a large fraction of the mass of galaxies and clusters of galaxies, but Webb telescope can measure its effects. One of the best ways to measure mass is through the gravitational lens effect. As described by Einstein’s General Relativity theory, a light beam passing near a large mass will be slightly deflected, because space-time is disturbed by the presence of mass.

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The Very Large Telescope, also located in Chile, has also taken part in the project with its Multi Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument. MUSE captured the light fingerprint of 19 galaxies in the later stages of star formation, once the regions are clear of the gas and dust that impede many types of observations.

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By taking pictures of distant galaxies behind nearby galaxies from Webb telescope, astronomers can calculate the total amount of mass in the foreground galaxies by measuring the disturbances in the background galaxies. Because astronomers can see how much mass is present in stars in the foreground galaxies, they can then calculate how much of the total mass is missing, which is presumed to be in the dark matter

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Webb telescope’s role will be to seek out those zones of the galaxies filled with dust, which are rich in forming stars but are difficult to view in other wavelengths behind infrared. Benefits of the study from Webb will include figuring out the ages of stellar populations (to build more robust statistical models of galaxy formation) and learning about the role of dust in forming galaxies.

About the author

Naqvi Syed

Naqvi Syed is is a freelance journalist who has contributed to several publications, including Spacepsychiatrist. He tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. He works with Spacepsychiatrist from a long time.

Link: https://spacepsychiatrist.com/

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