This Tuesday, July 12, NASA will release the first images of the brand new James Webb Space Telescope. It’s an unusual step for the scientific world, which is finally seeing the first results of years of work. Observations will quickly move toward a smaller star system: TRAPPIST-1, perhaps, could be considered the discovery of life in the universe.
That’s it! The first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will arrive this Tuesday, July 12. Images that amaze enthusiasts as their accuracy is revolutionary. This is an event that astronomers around the world have been waiting for for years.
What would these first images from the famous successor to the Hubble telescope be? A galaxy? A cosmic dust cloud? Distant planets? The target has not yet been revealed by NASA and is being contested by researchers.
James Webb’s first shot probably won’t show anything new, but it will demonstrate the power of binoculars. It has a large mirror with a diameter of 6 meters, where its big brother Hubble’s mirror is only 2.4 meters. The goal will be to show the most spectacular images possible, because according to researcher Jeremy Leconde of the University of Bordeaux, “NASA has invested a lot of money in this project, and so should the public”.
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Long term work
JWST was launched on December 25 by an Arianne 5 rocket from the Kourou Space Center in French Guiana. The telescope moved to an observatory 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, which it reached on January 24. A particularly successful trip would allow James Webb to remain under surveillance for 20 years instead of the five years initially announced.
The James Webb Telescope has very powerful cameras in the infrared domain and observes directly from space. He could then see the formation of the first galaxies in the universe’s past, shortly after the Big Bang.
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James Webb in Search of Life
A small part of the sky is of particular interest to this new telescope. The constellation Aquarius contains a red dwarf named TRAPPIST-1, which is orbited by seven exoplanets (planets that do not orbit the Sun). “This system is very close to us, 40 light-years away, and it is less than the size of the galaxy,” explains Michel Guillen, a researcher at the University of Liège who discovered TRAPPIST-1 with his team. Seven years ago.
Three to four of the system’s planets are in the star’s “habitable zone,” meaning liquid water could develop. “This system has positioned itself as James Webb’s ideal target, and as far as exoplanet research is concerned, it is also the main target,” says the astrophysicist. In fact, 25% of JWST’s time was devoted to studying exoplanets, and 11% of that time to TRAPPIST-1.
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The main task of the James Webb telescope is to analyze the presence or absence of atmospheres on the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system. “We hope to get the first answers to our questions by the end of the first observation cycle (from now until the end of 2023),” notes the scientist. A planet must have an atmosphere for life to form. If one or more planets have atmospheres, JWST will study their composition.
The results aren’t in yet, but the scientific world is reeling from this giant leap forward, and hopes for answers to humanity’s biggest questions lie in the images and data provided by this brand new telescope.
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