JWST Glimpses the Cosmic Dawn of the Universe

This still image shows the timeline running from the Big Bang on the right, towards the present on the left. In the middle is the Reionization Period where the initial bubbles caused the cosmic dawn. Credit: NASA SVS

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.

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Astronomer Working With Webb Said the new Images “Almost Brought him to Tears.” We’ll see Them on July 12th

The James Webb Space Telescope being placed in the Johnson Space Center’s historic Chamber A on June 20th, 2017. Credit: NASA/JSC

The scientific and astronomical community are eagerly waiting for Tuesday, July 12th, to come around. On this day, the first images taken by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will be released! According to a previous statement by the agency, these images will include the deepest views of the Universe ever taken and spectra obtained from an exoplanet atmosphere. In another statement issued yesterday, the images were so beautiful that they almost brought Thomas Zarbuchen – Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) – to tears!

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New Simulation Recreates an Early Time in the Universe That Still Hasn't Been Seen Directly

Credit: Thesan Simulations

The fields of astronomy and astrophysics are poised for a revolution in the coming years. Thanks to next-generation observatories like the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), scientists will finally be able to witness the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the Universe. In effect, they will be able to pierce the veil of the Cosmic Dark Ages, which lasted from roughly 370,000 years to 1 billion years after the Big Bang.

During this period, the Universe was filled with clouds of neutral hydrogen and decoupled photons that were not visible to astronomers. In anticipation of what astronomers will see, researchers from the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics (MPIA) created a new simulation suite called Thesan that simulates the earliest period of galaxy formation.

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