The first observations of the James Webb telescope were unveiled on Tuesday


NASA claims that the quality of these observations will reveal the exceptional scientific capabilities of the instruments of this technological gem worth 14 billion Canadian dollars.

We can not wait! People at NASA said the images brought tears to our eyes, so our expectations are really highenthuses Nathalie Ouellette, communications scientist for James Webb in Canada and coordinator of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets (iREx).

Artistic illustration of a mirror in space.

Artistic illustration showing the appearance of the Webb telescope distributed in space.

Photo: NASA / ESA

The findings, presented by NASA in collaboration with European (ESA) and Canadian space agencies, will be unveiled at a press conference to be held at 10:30 am at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington.

Some Canadian mission leaders will be present, including Professor René Doyon of the University of Montreal. For her part, Nathalie Ouellette will attend the conference at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), in Saint-Hubert, with colleagues and will answer questions from the media.

The target. the goal [de la présentation] is to show the telescope’s ability to study a range of different celestial objects.

A quote from Nathalie Ouellette, coordinator of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets

The event will be followed around the world by astrophysics research teams and astronomy enthusiasts. NASA revealed some targets from initial observations earlier this week.

We already know that the spectrum of an exoplanet’s atmosphere will be presented, which is very excitingsays Nathalie Ouellette.

This exoplanet is called WASP-96. Its spectrum should provide essential information on the chemical and molecular elements of its atmosphere. It could also allow us to understand how a planet was formed, but also to know if it hosts elements that reveal the presence of life.

In addition to the exoplanet, here are four celestial bodies observed:

  • the Carina Nebula, one of the largest and brightest in the sky;
Colored clouds and dots on a black background.

The Carina Nebula seen from Hubble in visible light (left) and infrared (right). The Webb telescope will provide a new portrait of the celestial object.

Photo: NASA / ESA / Hubble

  • the Southern Ring Nebula, an expanding cloud of gas around a dying star;
  • the Stephan Quintet, a compact group of galaxies;
  • SMACS 0723, a huge cluster of galaxies.

The most awaited element of the conference undoubtedly remains the unveiling of the deepest image ever captured of the Universe. A feat that promises to break the record set by Hubble with its ultra-deep field that revolutionized astronomy in 2004.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field.  Many colored dots on a black background.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, an image that required 800 exposures during Hubble’s 400 orbits around the Earth in 2003 and 2004, shows nearly 10,000 galaxies, including some of the furthest known galaxies at the time.

Photo: NASA / ESA / STScI / HUDF

At the time, Hubble was collecting visible and near-infrared radiation that covered 30 millionths of a tiny region of the northern hemisphere celestial sphere, resulting in a spectacular image showing thousands of galaxies of different ages, shapes and sizes, of various colors. , some of which existed when the Universe was only 800 million years old.

Galactic appetizer

As a prelude, the three partner agencies of the Webb mission released an image of stars and galaxies last Wednesday that gives a taste of the space observatory’s power.

Many bright spots on a black background.

Image captured during a test conducted in May with the Webb telescope’s Canadian precision guidance sensor. It provides an extraordinary insight into the power of the space observatory.

Photo: NASA / CSA

Taken last May, this image of the star HD147980 is the result of 72 exposures in 32 hours. Represents an overlay of observations that have not been optimized to detect faint objects. However, the image still reveals low-light objects.

This fantastic image shows that FGS works so well that it could also be used for scientific purposes, even if it wasn’t designed for that in the first place.

A quote from Nathalie Ouellette, coordinator of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets

For the moment, it is the deepest image of the Universe in infrared. But the reality could change on Tuesday.

Canadian contribution

The James Webb Telescope is able to look farther into the Universe than any other telescope thanks to its huge main mirror and its four instruments that perceive infrared signals, which allow it to pierce clouds of dust.

Canada supplies two of the four mission-critical Webb instruments: NIRISS (for near infrared slit spectrograph and imager) and FGS (precision guidance sensor).

NIRISS has collected some of the data that will be shared during the press conference, together with the US NIRCam, the main imager of the mission.

NIRISS has specialized imaging capabilities for studying the atmospheres of very distant exoplanets and galaxiesobserves Nathalie Ouellette.

As for the FGS, its work is also at the center of Tuesday’s announcements, and all those to follow, as it is the guiding detector that allows the telescope to point at an object and make observations with stability and precision. It is also thanks to the FGS and the NIRCam imager that James Webb was able to sketch the portrait of the star HD147980.

The FGS is like the eye of the telescope.

A quote from Nathalie Ouellette, coordinator of the Institute for Research on Exoplanets

The NIRISS and the FGS were designed by a team led by Pr René Doyon of the University of Montreal.

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A new era of exploration

Launched on December 25 from French Guiana, the Webb telescope reached its workplace 1.5 million kilometers from Earth in January.

Its facilities and scientific instruments are now deployed, calibrated and tested.

The results published on Tuesday mark the transition between the telescope’s commissioning phase and the beginning of its scientific mission.

During the first five months of the mission, James Webb’s instruments will be used exclusively by teams associated with the thirteen initial observation programs that have been selected following a competition based on their scientific interest in astronomical research.

Several Canadian and Quebec scientists participate in these programs.


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