Webb is about to reveal the most expansive view of the universe ever, and we're eager to see it

Webb is about to reveal the most expansive view of the universe ever, and we're eager to see it ...

Bill Nelson, the new NASA space telescope administrator, said Wednesday that the agency would reveal the "deepest image of our Universe that has ever been taken" on July 12, using the newly-activated James Webb Space Telescope.

"If you think about it, humanity is far farther away than humanity has ever looked before," Nelson said at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the operations center for the US$10 billion observatory that was launched in December last year and is now orbiting the Sun a million miles (1.5 million kilometers) away from Earth.

Webb, an engineering marvel, is able to peer deeper into the cosmos than any telescope before it, thanks to its enormous primary mirror and its instruments that focus on the infrared, allowing it to see through dust and gas.

"It's going to investigate objects in the solar system and the atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting other stars, giving us clues as to whether their atmospheres might be similar to our own," Nelson said while isolating with COVID-19.

"It may answer some concerns that we have: Where do we come from? What more is there? Who are we? And of course, it will answer some questions that we don't even know the answers to."

Webb's infrared abilities enable it to see deeper back in time to the Big Bang, which occurred 13.8 billion years ago.

Because the Universe is expanding, light from the earliest stars shifts from the ultraviolet and visible wavelengths it was emitted in to longer infrared wavelengths, which Webb is equipped to detect with astonishing accuracy.

The earliest cosmological observations date back to within 330 million years of the Big Bang, but with Webb's abilities, astronomers anticipate they will easily set a new record.

A life of 20 years

Pam Melroy, NASA's deputy administrator, said the telescope may be operational for 20 years, twice the length as originally planned.

"Not only will these 20 years allow us to go deeper into history and time, but we will also go deeper into science because we have the opportunity to learn and grow and make new observations," she said.

According to NASA's senior scientist Thomas Zurbuchen, Webb's first spectroscopy of a distant planet, known as an exoplanet, will be shared on July 12.

A spectroscopic view is a way to discover distant objects' chemical and molecular structure, and a planetary spectrum can help to study its atmosphere and other features, such as whether or not it has water or what its ground is like.

"Right from the start, we'll look at these worlds out there that keep us awake at night as we look into the starry sky and wonder if there is life elsewhere?" said Zurbuchen.

Nestor Espinoza, an STSI astronomer, told AFP that previous exoplanet spectroscopies carried out with existing instruments were rather limited compared to what Webb could perform.

"It's like being in a very dark room where you only have a tiny pinhole you can see through," Webb said, of current technology. "Now, with Webb, you've opened a huge window, you can see all the little details."

Agence France-Presse

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