James Webb’s Upper Stage is off to the Launch Site

In November (or early December) of this year, after many excruciating delays, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will finally launch to space. As the most advanced and complex observatory ever deployed, the James Webb will use its advanced suite of instruments to observe stars, exoplanets, and galaxies in the near and mid-infrared spectrum. In the process, it will address some of the most enduring mysteries about the nature of the Universe.

When the time comes, the James Webb will fly aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from the European Space Agency (ESA) launch facility near the town of Korou, French Guayana. Overnight on August 17th, 2021, the upper stage of that Ariane 5 began making its way in its cargo container from the ArianeGroup facility in Bremen, Germany, to Neustadt port, where it will board a ship bound for the ESA spaceport in French Guiana.

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A New Technique for “Seeing” Exoplanet Surfaces Based on the Content of their Atmospheres

In November of 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will make its long-awaited journey to space. This next-generation observatory will observe the cosmos using its advanced infrared suite and reveal many never-before-seen things. By 2024, it will be joined the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (RST), the successor to the Hubble mission that will have 100 times Hubble’s field of view and faster observing time.

These instruments will make huge contributions to many fields of research, not the least of which is the discovery and characterization of extrasolar planets. But even with their advanced optics and capabilities, these missions will not be able to examine the surfaces of exoplanets in any detail. However, a team of the UC Santa Cruz (UCSC) and the Space Science Institute (SSI) have developed the next best thing: a tool for detecting an exoplanet surface without directly seeing it.

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Another Delay for Webb, But This Time it’s Because of the Rocket, Not the Telescope

The Ariane5 lifting off from Kourou in French Guiana. Image: ESA/Arianespace.

Officials from NASA and ESA this acknowledged the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope will very likely be delayed from the end of October to at least mid-November, 2021. As we reported last month, the usually reliable Ariane 5 has experienced problems on two previous launches where unexpected vehicle accelerations occurred when the fairing separated from the rocket. The fairing is the nose cone used to protect a spacecraft payload during launch and acceleration through Earth’s atmosphere.

“Indeed, there was an anomaly which has been mentioned recently in the media,” said Daniel de Chambure, acting head of Ariane 5 adaptations, during a media briefing on JWST. “The origin of the problem has been found; corrective actions have been taken.”

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Concerns About James Webb’s Ariane 5 Rocket Might Push the Launch Back

A new report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) says that the launch of the long-awaited, highly anticipated James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will very likely be delayed due to an anomaly identified in the Ariane 5 launch vehicle.  Launch for JWST is currently scheduled for October 31, 2021, but that date could slip by at least a couple of weeks.  

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Webb Fully Unfurls for the Last Time on Earth. The Next Time Will Be in Space

The primary mirror of the long-awaited James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was opened for the last time on Earth before the launch of the observatory, currently scheduled for October 31, 2021.

During some of the final checkouts before the telescope heads to space, engineers commanded the 18 hexagonal mirrors to fully expand and lock into place, just like they will do once the Webb telescope reaches its destination in space.  

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Dark Matter Could Change the Temperature of Exoplanets, Allowing us to Detect it

Ah, dark matter, you continue to allude us. The stuff is incredibly difficult to study. It doesn’t interact with light, so our evidence of it is based upon its gravitational effects on light and visible matter. And the biggest difficulty is that we still don’t know what it is. Efforts to detect dark matter directly have come up empty, as have indirect methods such as looking for evidence of dark matter through things such as excess gamma-rays in the Milky Way. But astronomers continue to think up new ways to detect the stuff, such as a recent study published in Physical Review Letters.

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If Astronomers see Isoprene in the Atmosphere of an Alien World, There’s a Good Chance There’s Life There

It is no exaggeration to say that the study of extrasolar planets has exploded in recent decades. To date, 4,375 exoplanets have been confirmed in 3,247 systems, with another 5,856 candidates awaiting confirmation. In recent years, exoplanet studies have started to transition from the process of discovery to one of characterization. This process is expected to accelerate once next-generation telescopes become operational.

As a result, astrobiologists are working to create comprehensive lists of potential “biosignatures,” which refers to chemical compounds and processes that are associated with life (oxygen, carbon dioxide, water, etc.) But according to new research by a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), another potential biosignature we should be on the lookout for is a hydrocarbon called isoprene (C5H8).

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What Are Extrasolar Planets?

For countless generations, human beings have looked out at the night sky and wondered if they were alone in the Universe. With the discovery of other planets in our Solar System, the true extent of the Milky Way galaxy, and other galaxies beyond our own, this question has only deepened and become more profound.

And whereas astronomers and scientists have long suspected that other star systems in our galaxy and the Universe had orbiting planets of their own, it has only been within the last few decades that any have been observed. Over time, the methods for detecting these “extrasolar planets” have improved, and the list of those whose existence has been confirmed has grown accordingly (over 4000 and counting!)

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