NASA unveiled more color photos from the James Webb Space Telescope on Tuesday. As emphasized by dr hab. Maciej Mikołajewski, professor emeritus of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń at the Institute of Astronomy, “studying the evolution of the universe almost from its origins, including distant galaxies, is open to us”. He adds that the observations of the James Webb telescope will facilitate, among other things, the detection of substances that testify to the existence of life on other planets.
Four images sent by the James Webb telescope were presented at an event organized by the US space agency on Tuesday. Earlier, at night from Monday to Tuesday, Polish time, the first historical photo from the telescope NASA presented with US President Joe Biden at the White House.
Objects in the images unveiled on Tuesday include the Stefan Quintet, a group of five galaxies, and the Southern Ring planetary nebula (NGC 3132, also known as the Eight Shattered). According to dr hab. Maciej Mikołajewski, professor emeritus of the Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń at the Institute of Astronomy, “the famous Stefan’s Quintet is a collection of interacting galaxies that may help answer questions about interactions between galaxies, including the future of our Milky Way, which will collide with M31 in five billion years.”
“In turn, a photograph of the South Ring planetary nebula will help us better define the future of the Sun in a few billion years. In a similar way to the central star of this nebula, it is supposed to get rid of its outer layers, explains the scientist who dealt with the astrophysics of double stars in his research.
On Tuesday, the spectrum of the extrasolar planet – WASP-96 b was presented. The spectrum shows, among other things, signs of the presence of water vapor in the planet’s atmosphere. – Such observations may bring completely new possibilities of detecting biosignatures on other planets, i.e. substances that can testify to the existence of life. A few years ago, astronomers of my age did not even dream about such possibilities – admits the specialist.
“A milestone towards getting to know the most massive stars”
As Dr. Mikołajewski points out, another exciting thing is the Carina Nebula in the Kila constellation. It is a huge gas nebula illuminated by young, very hot stars. In its center there is one of the largest, most massive and brightest stars in our galaxy – Eta Carinae, which hides many secrets.
– It is not known how a star with such a mass and chemical composition could exist. It sweeps away huge amounts of matter in the form of a stellar wind. It could explode as a supernova at any moment. Her research will be a milestone towards understanding the most massive stars, i.e. those that determined the chemical evolution of galaxies. It was their explosions that spread such elements as carbon or oxygen, without which we would not be here and we would not talk about it – describes the researcher.
“The study of the evolution of the universe is open to us almost from its beginnings”
The first image, shown on Monday through Tuesday night, shows the galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, which is 4.5 billion light years away. NASA described this photo as “the deepest and most detailed image of the universe ever taken.”
The professor of the Nicolaus Copernicus University points out that in this photo the range and the extreme sharpness of the photo are noticeable. Webb looked farther than the Hubble Telescope while taking this photo. At the same time, a similar photo of Hubble had to be exposed for several weeks, and this photo took several hours – he points out.
The first photo, published as the first one, also points to the enormous challenges facing researchers far away outer space. It shows gravitational distortions in the image of distant galaxies caused by objects closer to us. Dr. Mikołajewski emphasizes that the analysis of such photos will require complex, complicated processing. – The study of the evolution of the Universe almost from its origins, including distant galaxies, is open to us. For example, it will be possible to answer the question of the role of central black holes – whether galaxies formed first or the supermassive black holes hiding in their centers, he explains.
Main photo source: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI