On July 12th, 2022, in an event live-streamed from the NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center, the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) first images were released! Among them was the most detailed image of SMACS 0723, showing galaxy clusters and the gravitational lenses they produced. These lenses allowed astronomers to see deeper into the cosmos and spot galaxies as they appeared less than one billion years after the Big Bang (ca. 13 billion years ago). Upon further examination, however, they noticed something rather surprising about these early galaxies: they were much larger than expected!
According to the standard model of cosmology, the earliest galaxies in the Universe did not have enough time to become as bright, massive, and mature as they appeared. This raised many questions about our cosmological models and whether or not the Universe was older than previously thought. According to new simulations by a Northwestern University-led team of astrophysicists, these galaxies may not be so massive after all. According to their findings, they appear larger due to irregular and very bright bursts of star formation.
Well, buckle up! The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) has just announced what Webb will be studying during its second year of operations – aka. Cycle 2! According to a recent STScI statement, approximately 5,000 hours of prime time and 1,215 hours of parallel time were awarded to General Observer (GO) programs. The programs allotted observation time range from studies of the Solar System and exoplanets to the interstellar and intergalactic medium, from supermassive black holes and quasars to the large-scale structure of the Universe.
The James Webb Space Telescope(JWST) continues to push the boundaries of astronomy and cosmology, the very job it was created for. First conceived during the 1990s, and with development commencing about a decade later, the purpose of this next-generation telescope is to pick up where Spitzer and the venerable Hubble Space Telescope (HST) left off – examining the infrared Universe and looking farther back in time than ever before. One of the chief objectives of Webb is to observe high-redshift (high-Z) galaxies that formed during Cosmic Dawn.
This period refers to the Epoch of Reionization, where the first galaxies emitted large amounts of ultraviolet (UV) photons that ionized the neutral hydrogen that made up the intergalactic medium (IGM), causing the Universe to become transparent. The best way to measure the level of star formation is the H-alpha emission line, which is visible in the mid-infrared spectrum for galaxies with high redshifts. Using data from the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), an international team of researchers was able to resolve the H-alpha line and observe galaxies with redshift values higher than seven (z>7) for the first time.
The Milky Way Galaxy contains an estimated one hundred billion stars. Between these lies the Interstellar Medium (ISM), a region permeated by gas and dust grains. This dust is largely composed of heavier elements, including silicate minerals, ice, carbon, and iron compounds. This dust plays a key role in the evolution of galaxies, facilitating the gravitational collapse of gas clouds to form new stars. This galactic dust is measurable by how it attenuates starlight from distant galaxies, causing it to shift from ultraviolet to far-infrared radiation.
However, the origin of various dust grains is still a mystery, especially during the early Universe when heavier elements are thought to have been scarce. Previously, scientists believed that elements like carbon took hundreds of millions of years to form and could not have existed before about 2.5 billion years after the Big Bang. Using data obtained by the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES), an international team of astronomers and astrophysicists report the detection of carbonaceous grains around a galaxy that existed roughly 1 billion years after the Big Bang.
As the successor to the venerable Hubble Space Telescope, one of the main duties of the James Webb Space Telescope has been to take deep-field images of iconic cosmic objects and structures. The JWST’s next-generation instruments and improved resolution provide breathtakingly detailed images, allowing astronomers to learn more about the cosmos and the laws that govern it. The latest JWST deep-field is of a region of space known as Abell 7244 – aka. Pandora’s Cluster – where three galaxy clusters are in the process of coming together to form a megacluster.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the most complex and sophisticated observatory ever deployed. Using its advanced suite of infrared instruments, coronographs, and spectrometers – contributed by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) – this observatory will spend the next ten to twenty years building on the achievements of its predecessor, the venerable Hubble. This includes exoplanet characterization, star and planet formation, and the formation and evolution of the earliest galaxies in the Universe.
However, one of the main objectives of the JWST is to study the planets, moons, asteroids, comets, and other celestial bodies here in the Solar System. This includes Mars, the first Solar planet to get the James Webb treatment! The images Webb took (recently released by the ESA) provide a unique perspective on Mars, showing what the planet looks like in infrared wavelengths. The data yielded by these images could provide new insight into Mars’ atmosphere and environment, complimenting decades of observations by orbiters, landers, rovers, and other telescopes.
On Oct. 12th, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) arrived safely at Port de Pariacabo in French Guiana after spending 16 days traveling between California and South America. Since then, the observatory was transported to a cleanroom in the Guyanese Space Center (GSC). Here, crews “unboxed” the observatory from its protective cargo container in preparation for launch – now targetted for Dec. 18th.
These events were captured in a series of beautiful images recently shared by the Guyanese Space Center, the European Space Agency (ESA), and NASA via their JWST Twitter accounts (more are posted on the NASA JWST Flickr page). This process involved carefully lifting the telescope from its packing container and raising it vertically, the same configuration Webb its launches to space aboard an Ariane 5 rocket.
NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) recently announced that a Canadian astronaut will fly as part of the crew of Artemis II. This mission, scheduled for May of 2024, will see an Orion space capsule conduct a circumlunar flight where it flies around the Moon without landing. This will be the first of two crew opportunities that NASA will provide for Canadian astronauts on Artemis missions (as per the agreement).
Think you know everything there is to know about the famous Canadarm, and the story of the Canadian space program? A new book out next month delves deep into the fascinating backstory of the Canadian Space Agency.
The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has a long-standing tradition of innovation and technological development in space. Who can forget the Shuttle Remote Manipulator System (SRMS), more familiarly known as the “Canadarm“, which was essential to the Space Shuttle program? How about its successor, the Canadarm2, which is a crucial part of the International Space Station and even helped assemble it?
Looking to the future, the CSA intends to play a similar role in humanity’s return to the Moon – which includes the creation of the Lunar Gateway and Project Artemis. To this end, the CSA recently awarded a series of contracts with private businesses and one university to foster the development of technologies that would assist with national and international efforts to explore the Moon.