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Webb Space Telescope: Biden and NASA reveal first image

At a brief event at the White House on Monday evening, President Biden unveiled an image that NASA and astronomers have seen as the deepest view ever in the past of our universe.

Image taken by the James Webb Space Telescope – the largest space telescope ever built – shows a distant patch of sky with fledgling galaxies burning their way into visibility 600 million years after the Big Bang.

“This is the oldest documented light in the history of the universe from 13 billion – I must say again, 13 billion years ago,” Mr Biden said. The president, who apologized for the slow start to the program, praised NASA for the work that enabled the telescope and the imagery it produces.

“We can see possibilities that no one has seen before,” Mr Biden said. “We can go places no one has ever been before.”

Mr Biden’s announcement serves as a teaser for the telescope’s larger cosmic slideshow coming Tuesday morning, when scientists reveal what Webb has been observing for the past six months. You can sign up for reminders here to get the first glimpse of them on your personal digital calendar.

For Mr Biden, the reveal of the images was also an opportunity to engage directly with an event that will almost certainly arouse surprise and pride among Americans – at a time when his approval ratings have plummeted as voters eat high. And backfires on gasoline prices and Democrats question their ability to fight for gun control and abortion rights.

In a setting at the White House’s South Auditorium, which featured scenes from the bridge of a starship on “Star Trek”, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were joined by Alondra Nelson, Acting Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. , Former Florida Senator Bill Nelson appointed NASA administrator by Mr. Biden; and Jane Rigby, an operations project scientist for the Webb Telescope. Each sat at small, widely spaced desks in front of a large screen where other NASA officials appeared. The screen gave way to the cosmic image, speckled with tiny dots of galaxies and applauded from the far end of the room.

NASA Chief Mr. Nelson spoke about the telescope’s scientific potential at a White House event.

“We’re going to be able to answer questions that we don’t yet know what the questions are,” he said. When he said the technology could determine whether other planets are habitable, Mr Biden responded with a “wow.”

As the ceremony ended and the reporting pool was escorted out of the room, Mr. Biden was heard saying, “I wonder what the press is up to in those other places.”

Some of the Webb Telescope’s most ambitious missions are to study the first stars and galaxies that illuminated the universe shortly after the Big Bang, 14 billion years ago. While Monday’s snapshot may not have reached that far, it proved the principle of the technique and indicated what else is to come from the telescope’s scientific instruments, which astronomers have waited decades to bring online.

“As the telescope collects more data in the coming years, we will see to the edge of the universe like never before,” Priyamvada Natarajan of Yale University, an expert on black holes and primitive galaxies, said in an email from India.

He continued, “When we get to see the edge of the black hole and the edge of the universe, it’s beyond my imagination to survive.”

NASA on Friday released a list of five subjects Webb recorded with its instruments. But Mr Biden showed one of them at the White House on Monday.

The image goes by the name of SMACS 0723. It is a patch of sky visible from the Southern Hemisphere on Earth and is often visited by Hubble and other telescopes in search of the deep past. It includes a vast group of galaxies about four billion light-years away that astronomers use as a kind of cosmic telescope. The cluster’s enormous gravitational field acts as a lens, distorting and magnifying the light from the galaxies behind it that would otherwise be too faint and distant to see.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for space science, described this image as the darkest ever seen in the past of our universe.

Marcia Riecke of the University of Arizona, who led the construction of NIRCam, one of the Webb telescope’s cameras, said, “This image will not hold the ‘darkest’ record for a long time, but clearly shows the power of the telescope. “

NASA will show other photos Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time in a live video stream that you can watch on NASA TV or YouTube. They will be shown at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

The images create a sightseeing tour of the universe that no human eye has ever seen – the invisible rays of infrared, or heat radiation. A small team of astronomers and science outreach experts selected the images to show off the new telescope’s potential and take the plunge from the public.

There is the Southern Ring Nebula, a shell of gas ejected from a dying star about 2,000 light-years from here, and the Carina Nebula, a vast swirling expanse of gas and stars, which includes some of the largest and potentially explosive star systems. Huh. Galaxy.

Yet another familiar celestial view is Stephen’s Quintet, a tight cluster of galaxies in the constellation Pegasus about 290 million light-years away from here.

The team will also release a broad spectrum of an exoplanet called WASP-96b, a gas giant half the mass of Jupiter that orbits 1,150 light-years from here every 3.4 days. Such a spectrum is the kind of detail that can reveal what is in the atmosphere of that world.

Going into space on Christmas Day last year was the first step for the James Webb Space Telescope.

The spacecraft has been orbiting the second Lagrange point, or L2, about one million miles from Earth since January 24. At L2, the gravitational pull of the Sun and Earth maintain Webb’s motion around the Sun in synchronization with Earth.

Before getting there, pieces of the telescope had to be carefully unwrapped: the sun shield that keeps the instruments cool so that it could properly capture the faint infrared light, the 18 gold-plated hexagonal pieces of the mirror.

For astronomers, engineers and officials observing Earth, the deployment was a stressful time. There were 344 single-point failures, meaning that if none of the actions worked, the telescope would have ended up as useless space junk. They all worked.

The telescope’s four scientific instruments also had to be commissioned. In the months following the telescope’s arrival at L2, its operators painstakingly aligned the 18 mirrors. In April, the Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, which requires the coldest temperature possible, had cooled to minus 447 degrees Fahrenheit, and scientists could begin the final series of investigations on it. Once these and other steps are taken, the science can begin.

The Webb telescope’s primary mirror is 6.5 m in diameter compared to Hubble, which is 2.4 m, giving Webb about seven times the light-gathering capability and thus the ability to look further into space and so deeply in the past. gives the ability to see.

Another important difference is that the Web is equipped with cameras and other devices that are sensitive to infrared, or “heat” radiation. The expansion of the universe causes light that is normally at wavelengths that are visible to shift to longer infrared wavelengths that are normally invisible to the human eye.

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