James Webb Space Telescope

On this Day:

In 1987, Astronomers at the University of California saw the 1st sight of a galaxy’s birth.

Astronomers say they have detected starlight from the birth of a galaxy 12 billion years ago, which would mean galaxies kept forming long after the universe emerged from the ″Big Bang.″

″It’s probably the first forming galaxy we’ve seen, and if that’s right, galaxy formation is a much more extended process than heretofore imagined,″ said Stanislav Djorgovski of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

While some astronomers believe the universe is much younger, Djorgovski and others believe it is about 20 billion years old.

To them, the discovery that a galaxy was born from a collapsing cloud of gas and dust 12 billion years ago means galaxies were not all created at the same time shortly after the universe is believed to have formed in a massive explosion known as the Big Bang.

″That’s something very new and changes our conception of how galaxies form,″ Djorgovski said.

The discovery was announced Monday at the American Astronomical Society’s annual meeting by Djorgovski, James Liebert of the University of Arizona and Patrick McCarthy, Hyron Spinrad, Wil van Breugel and Michael Strauss, all of the University of California, Berkeley.

The object is too far away for positive identification, but scientists detected evidence that perhaps 1 billion suns ignited as a huge gas cloud collapsed under its own gravity 71 billion trillion miles, or 12 billion light years, from Earth. A light year is the distance light travels in one year, so the birth of the galaxy actually happened 12 billion years ago.

″We’re talking about the turn-on of an entire galaxy, or at least that’s what we think,″ Spinrad said. Stars form when the collapsing gas ″heats up to the point where it can turn on thermonuclear reactions,″ he said.

The researchers focused on the possible ″proto-galaxy,″ known as radio wave source 3C 326.1, with the Very Large Array radio telescope in New Mexico and with optical telescopes at Lick Observatory near San Jose and at the Multiple Mirror Observatory and Kitt Peak National Observatory in Arizona.

Using special filters, they detected mostly extreme blue light from the object and some other colors. The blue light indicates most of the object is a huge cloud of electrically charged hydrogen gas about three times bigger than our own Milky Way galaxy.

The cloud is about 100 times brighter than the starlight, suggesting that the cloud is in the earliest stages of galaxy formation and will continue to collapse to spawn many more stars.

″It’s on its way to becoming a giant galaxy and hasn’t quite got there yet,″ Spinrad said.

The galaxy eventually might contain 10 billion stars, McCarthy said.

Djorgovski said the number of stars was hard to measure because using telescopes to detect light from the proto-galaxy is like trying to detect a 25-watt lightbulb on the moon.

The fact that 3C 326.1 is a powerful source of radio wave energy poses a problem for the idea that it is a proto-galaxy, Spinrad acknowledged.

Prevailing theory holds that such radio signals are produced when vast amounts of material are sucked into a black hole, an older star so dense that its gravity pulls in even light. The astronomers cannot explain how a black hole might exist, if one really does, within a newborn galaxy.

But McCarthy and Spinrad said some scientists believe very dense matter like a black hole can exist at the centers of young galaxies.

Two years ago, van Breugel theorized that a new galaxy might be formed by a collision between a cosmic jet of energized gas from dying stars and gas in a strange, luminous region of space known as Minkowski’s Object, located 240 million light years from Earth, much closer than 3C 326.1

But Spinrad said Minkowski’s Object is much smaller and more completely formed than the possible proto-galaxy and really may be an older galaxy undergoing a burst of star formation (per https://apnews.com/article/8df76a1a12f8f3c59e01feec1a58b974).

First, a Story:

From The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams:

“You know,” said Arthur, “it’s at times like this, when I’m trapped in a Vogon airlock with a man from Betelgeuse, and about to die of asphyxiation in deep space that I really wish I’d listened to what my mother told me when I was young.” “Why, what did she tell you?” “I don’t know, I didn’t listen.”

Second, a Song:

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is a space telescope developed by NASA with contributions from the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The telescope is named after James E. Webb, who was the administrator of NASA from 1961 to 1968 and played an integral role in the Apollo program. It is intended to succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s flagship mission in astrophysics. JWST was launched 25 December 2021 on Ariane flight VA256. It is designed to provide improved infrared resolution and sensitivity over Hubble, viewing objects up to 100 times fainter and will enable a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology, including observations up to redshift z≈20 of some of the most distant events and objects in the Universe such as the formation of the first galaxies, and allowing detailed atmospheric characterization of potentially habitable exoplanets.

JWST’s primary mirror, the Optical Telescope Element, consists of 18 hexagonal mirror segments made of gold-plated beryllium which combine to create a 6.5 meter (21 ft 4 inch) diameter mirror. This gives Webb’s telescope a light collecting area about 5.6 times larger than Hubble’s 2.4 m (7.9 ft) mirror (25.37 m2 collecting area to Hubble’s 4.525 m2). Unlike Hubble, which observes in the near ultraviolet, visible, and near infrared (0.1–1.0 μm) spectra, JWST will observe in a lower frequency range, from long-wavelength visible light (red) through mid-infrared (0.6–28.3 μm). This will enable it to observe high-redshift objects that are too old and too distant for Hubble. The telescope must be kept below 50 K (−223 °C; −370 °F) to observe faint signals in the infrared without interference from any other sources of warmth, so it will be deployed in space near the Sun–Earth L2 Lagrange point, a point in space about 1.5 million kilometers (930,000 mi) from Earth, where its 5 layer kite-shaped sunshield can protect it from warming by the Sun, Earth and Moon at the same time.

The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Maryland managed the development and the Space Telescope Science Institute is operating JWST. The prime contractor was Northrop Grumman.

Development began in 1996 for a launch that was initially planned for 2007 with a US$500 million budget. There were many delays and cost overruns, including a major redesign in 2005, a ripped sunshield during a practice deployment, a recommendation from an independent review board, the COVID-19 pandemic, issues with the Ariane 5 rocket and the telescope itself, and communications issues between the telescope and the launch vehicle. The high-stakes nature of the launch, which is the planned backbone of the next generation of research in its fields, and the telescope’s required complexity, was remarked upon by the media, and commented on by scientists and engineers.

Construction was completed in late 2016, when an extensive testing phase began. JWST was launched 12:20 UTC 25 December 2021 by an Ariane 5 launch vehicle from Kourou, French Guiana and was released from the upper stage 27 minutes later. The launch was described by NASA as “flawless” and “perfect”. As of January 2022, the telescope is being gradually tested and unfolded to its operational configuration, while traveling to its target destination. It will slow down as it travels, in order to arrive at L2 with only the velocity needed to enter its orbit there.

In November 2017, the Space Telescope Science Institute announced the selection of 13 Director’s Discretionary Early Release Science (DD-ERS) programs, chosen through a competitive proposal process for the James Webb Space Telescope. The observations for these programs will be obtained during the first five months of JWST science operations after the end of the commissioning period. A total of 460 hours of observing time was awarded to these 13 programs, which span science topics including the Solar System, exoplanets, stars and star formation, nearby and distant galaxies, gravitational lenses, and quasars (per Wikipedia).

Here is a clip from BBC News on the James Webb Space Telescope:

“The BBC’s science editor Rebecca Morelle on how the observatory hopes to capture the history of our Universe.

The $10bn James Webb telescope has left Earth on its mission to show the first stars to light up the Universe.

The observatory was lifted skyward by an Ariane rocket from the Kourou spaceport in French Guiana.

Its flight to orbit lasted just under half an hour, with a signal confirming a successful outcome picked up by a ground antenna at Malindi in Kenya.

Webb, named after one of the architects of the Apollo Moon landings, is the successor to the Hubble telescope.

Engineers working with the US, European and Canadian space agencies have built the new observatory to be 100 times more powerful, however.” (per BBC and YouTube.com).

Here is BBC’s clip on the James Webb Space Telescope. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“In less than a hundred years, we have found a new way to think of ourselves. From sitting at the center of the universe, we now find ourselves orbiting an average-sized sun, which is just one of millions of stars in our own Milky Way galaxy.” – Stephen Hawking

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Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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