How the James Webb Space Telescope disrupted the universe

But JWST’s speed of discovery isn’t solely due to its intrinsic capabilities. Astronomers have been preparing for years for the observations it will make, developing algorithms that can quickly turn its data into usable information. Much of the data is open access, allowing the astronomical community to skim through it as nearly as quickly as possible. Its operators have also built on lessons learned from the telescope’s predecessor, Hubble, scheduling its observations as much as possible.

For some people, the extraordinary volume of data is a surprise. “It’s more than what we expected,” said Heidi Hammel, an interdisciplinary NASA scientist for JWST and vice president of science at the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy in Washington, DC. . “When we switched to active mode, it worked nonstop. Every hour we observe a galaxy or an exoplanet or star formation. It’s like a fire hydrant.

Now, months later, JWST continues to send a flurry of data to awestruck astronomers on Earth, and it is expected to change our understanding of the distant universe, exoplanets. , planet formation, galaxy structure, etc. Not all enjoy the hectic activity, which sometimes reflects the emphasis on speed in the scientific process, but JWST is certainly mesmerizing. audiences across the globe at breakneck speed. The floodgates are open—and they won’t be closing anytime soon.

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JWST orbits the sun around a stable point 1.5 million km from Earth. Its huge golden government mirror, as tall as a giraffe, is protected from the sun’s glare by a sunshade the size of a tennis court, allowing unprecedented observations of the universe. under infrared light.

telescope is a long time coming. First conceived in the 1980s, it was planned to launch around 2007 at a cost of $1 billion. But its complexity caused huge delays, gobbling up money until it got there named “telescopes have eaten astronomy.” When JWST finally launched in December 2021, its estimated cost skyrocketed nearly 10 billion USD.

Even after debut, there were moments of anxiety. The telescope’s journey to its target location outside the moon’s orbit took a month, and hundreds of moving parts were required to deploy its various components, including a giant sunshade, needed to keep infrared sensitive devices cool.

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