NASA releases first images from Webb telescope: U-M experts available
NASA today unveiled a batch of striking images from distant galaxies from the powerful, $10 billion James Webb Space Telescope that will allow humanity to see space as it never has before.
University of Michigan experts have been working for and expecting this development, and are available to discuss.
Emily Rauscher, associate professor of astronomy, specializes in 3D modeling of the atmospheres of exoplanets, or planets outside of our solar system.
“As I watched these new data from JWST being revealed, I’m really struck by just how momentous the beginning of this mission is,” she said. “Across so many topics in astronomy, we are already seeing JWST providing profound new insights, and this is going to quickly become the new regular.
“I’m not sure I have really adjusted my mindset to how much of a change these data will make to what we know in astronomy, but also even how we do astronomy. It’s almost too much information. And seeing classic Hubble Space Telescope images compared next to new JWST ones? How can this mission not inspire a whole new generation of astronomers? I can’t wait to meet them.”
Michael Meyer is a professor of astronomy. As a postdoctoral researcher in 1997, he began working on a committee tasked with dreaming up cutting-edge scientific applications of what was then called the Next Generation Space Telescope.
“These first data from JWST are stunning,” he said. “With its extraordinary infrared sensitivity in space, JWST can pierce through obscuring dust, detect light from some of the coolest objects known, and trace light from stars in galaxies as they form and evolve from the first few hundred million years after the Big Bang to today.
“These first images and spectra will enable astronomers to study star birth, star death, galaxy formation from the first galaxies, across cosmic time, and even planets around nearby stars. They represent the start of a new era, one that astronomers have been waiting many years for, and inviting a new generation of astronomers to help make great discoveries with this incredible new facility.”
Larissa Markwardt, a graduate student in astronomy, will use JWST to observe and characterize the physical properties of Trojan asteroids, which astronomers call the fossils of our solar system.
“While much of the science being done with JWST focuses on the distant edge of our universe, it will also revolutionize how we study objects in our own cosmic backyard,” she said. “People think that just because the solar system is nearby, we understand everything about it, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“There are lots of tiny rocks in our solar system that are so small and faint they can only be studied with JWST. Understanding what these tiny rocks are like and what they’re made of is key to understanding how the much larger planets formed and what the early solar system was like.
“JWST is this generation’s great space-based observatory. It is already showing us the immense and infinite beauty of space in a way that not even the Hubble Space Telescope could. Seeing these images reminds me of when I fell in love with astronomy, and I hope that they will inspire young scientists to join this wonderful field, too.”
Buddy Stark, planetarium manager at the U-M Museum of Natural History, looks to the future of what additional data the JWST could collect.
“While the exoplanet spectrum image isn’t as visually appealing as the others, it also makes a profound statement for the JWST,” he said. “The idea that it confirmed the spectral signature of water in the atmosphere of an exoplanet so quickly and compellingly gives me a lot of excitement of what’s to come once it has had years to collect more data.”