How the James Webb Space Telescope observes time

We always get light from the sky after a while. For example, the light from our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, is four years to Earth, so when we look at Alpha Centauri, we see it as four years ago.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) takes this concept to the next level, studying the farthest distances the telescope could look directly back 13.5 billion years – close to the beginning of the universe.

First light

The Big Bang happened 13.8 billion years ago. One second later, the entire universe was exposed to radiation, hydrogen, helium and high -energy particles at a temperature of 18 billion degrees Fahrenheit. About 400,000 years later, the temperature dropped to 5,500 degrees Fahrenheit and the earth turned red. As the universe continued to cool, that radiance disappeared and the world became very dark, which became known as the Dark Ages.

The fragments from the Big Bang came together by gravity to form the first atoms. Those atoms combine to form clusters to form stars. When the first stars were formed, they began to emit the first light, which JWST was built to see.

The Hubble telescope can look back at times, but not like the JWST. Hubble has been circling the Earth and providing us with amazing images of the universe and important scientific results for 30 years, but its mirror is only 8 feet in diameter, which limits its potential. looking into the farthest reaches. In addition, light from farther distances is stretched due to the expansion of the universe, becoming long infrared waves, which Hubble cannot easily detect.

In comparison, JWST is designed to collect infrared radiation, improving its 21-foot mirror. There are other benefits to collecting infrared radiation besides looking at distant objects. Surrounded by stars and constellations formed by the earth, which absorbs the visible light; however, infrared radiation can enter that soil. Therefore, JWST can detect objects that are much more distant and fragile than Hubble.

Back to the beginning

To perform that deep astronomical observation, JWST would have to look at one part of the universe for a long period of time in order to gather as much light as possible from the distances that astronomers are looking to see. “We’re trying to build a history of the emergence of the first galaxies and the evolution of those galaxies that we see today and we live in today,” he said. Marusa Bradac, an astronomer at the University of California, Davis, in an interview with NPR. “If you’re not right at the beginning, it’s really hard to see what the whole thing is like.”

Unlike Hubble, JWST can see clearly into the astronomers, where the stars and earth systems are born. The study answers questions about how the clouds of earth and the gas that make up the stars and how the earth systems work around them.

Another goal for JWST is to try to understand how things are organized. After the Big Bang, high levels of heat and thickness produced the simplest materials, mostly helium and hydrogen. We know that everything else – carbon, gold, silicon and so on – is made of nuclear effects in the stars and giant constellations we call supernovae, which scatter the things in the galaxy. But we don’t know the procedures.

Seeing again

Astronomers from all over the world can apply for time using JWST to support their research and most of the new research is studying exoplanets. Twenty years ago, no other planet could be seen outside of our solar system. Since then, thousands of stars, exoplanets, have been seen in orbit around the stars. The project for JWST will study the atmospheres of exoplanets to determine if they can support life – or whether the telescope will see the face of life itself.

“The James Webb Space Telescope reflects the vision of NASA and our partners who continue to accelerate us into the future,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a NASA news release. “Webb’s promise is not what we will see; That’s what we don’t understand and can’t understand about our entire universe…. We are committed to a time of real interest in knowledge, things we have never seen before. “

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