This Tuesday, July 12, NASA unveils the first images of the all-new James Webb Space Telescope. This is an extraordinary step forward for the scientific world, which is finally seeing the first results of many years of work. The observations will quickly move towards a small star system: TRAPPIST-1 to perhaps consider discovering life in the universe.
That is it ! The first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) arrive on Tuesday, July 12th. Images that will amaze enthusiasts as their precision is revolutionary. This is an event that astronomers around the world have been waiting for for several years.
What are these first images provided by the famous successor to the Hubble Telescope? A galaxy? A cloud of cosmic dust? Remove planets? The goal has not yet been revealed by NASA, and the bets are on by the scientists.
James Webb’s first shot is unlikely to show anything new, but it will demonstrate the power of the telescope. It has a giant mirror 6 meters in diameter, where its big brother Hubble was only 2.4 meters. The goal will be to show the most spectacular images possible, because according to Jérémy Leconte, a researcher at the University of Bordeaux, “NASA has invested a lot of money in this project, the general public must also be there”.
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A long-term job
JWST was launched into space on December 25 by an Arianne 5 rocket from the Kourou space center in French Guiana. The telescope was then on its way to an observation point 1.5 million kilometers from the ground, it reached it on 24 January. A particularly successful trip that will allow James Webb to remain under observation for 20 years instead of the five years originally announced.
The James Webb Telescope observes in the infrared domain thanks to very powerful cameras and directly from space. He will then be able to go far back in the past of the universe, shortly after the Big Bang, to see the first galaxies in formation.
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James Webb in search of life
A small part of the sky is of particular interest for this new telescope. In the constellation Aquarius is a red dwarf named TRAPPIST-1, which orbits seven exoplanets (planets that do not orbit the sun). “This system has the special feature of being very close to us, only 40 light-years away, which on the scale of the galaxy is minimal,” explains Michael Gillon, a researcher at the University of Liège, who and his team have discovered TRAPPIST-1 for seven years ago.
Three to four planets in this system are in the “habitable zone of the star”, meaning that liquid water can potentially evolve. “This system has established itself as the best target for James Webb, in terms of research on exoplanets, it’s even the main target,” the astrophysicist adds. In fact, 25% of JWST’s time was dedicated to the study of exoplanets and 11% of that time was reserved specifically for TRAPPIST-1.
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The main task of the James Webb Telescope will be to analyze the presence or not of an atmosphere on the planets in the TRAPPIST-1 system. “We hope that at the end of the first observation cycle (from now until the end of 2023) we will have the first answers to our questions,” the scientist clarifies. The presence of an atmosphere is essential for life to evolve on a planet. If one or more planets have an atmosphere, JWST will analyze their composition.
The results are not there yet, but the scientific world is on its way after this great leap forward, and the hope of answering some of humanity’s biggest questions lies in the images and data from this brand new telescope.