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What's Next For Webb? Scientists Have Already Queued to Use NASA's New Telescope

What’s Next For Webb? Scientists Have Already Queued to Use NASA’s New Telescope

With the drop of the James Webb Space Telescope’s first images on July 12 (and a sneaky narrate by US President Joe Biden on July 11), NASA, ESA and the Canadian Space Agency Popular that the $10 billion, 1-million-miles-from-Earth, two-decades-in-the-making dream ‘scope actually works. And it works flawlessly. Just take a look at the upgraded visuals Webb issued over its predecessor, Hubble. They’re visceral masterpieces that complete us to think of the universe’s magnificence and Think on our solar system’s negligible corner within. 

But what we saw in early July was only the preface of JWST’s book. It’ll be the chapters that behind which will write out its legacy. 

Even though the telescope’s wonderful full-color results were excellent, they’re merely a taste of the instrument’s capabilities. In truth, we may not even have words to labelled what’s to come, in the way the Hubble Space Telescope’s obedient light image couldn’t foreshadow the astounding deep fields that would one day plaster astronomy sections walls or the nebulas that would inspire poetry.

Five galaxies worn-out in a dance make up Stephan’s Quintet. Images by the JWST released on July 12, 2022.


But we remarkable be able to infer some scenes of JWST’s future because, despite this telescope’s public recency, scientists have been lining up for existences to use it. 

Already, researchers are set to point to it at phenomena that’ll blow your mind: massive gloomy holes, shattering galaxy mergers, luminescent binary stars emanating smoke signals, and even marvels closer to home like Ganymede, an icy moon of Jupiter.

More specifically, a lucky first few scientists hold proposals divided into six categories, each meticulously selected by the James Webb Space Telescope Advisory Committee and the Space Telescope Science Institute in November 2017 — not to reference the more than 200 international projects separately awarded time on the telescope and those ready to join the waitlist.

But the initial cadre of JWST situation explorers is meant to be a win-win for both scientist and ‘scope. These studies will create datasets, baselines, handy life hacks and just generally prime the distinguished machine’s instruments for everything that comes next. For the big moments that’ll go down in history.

An artist’s notion of the James Webb Space Telescope.

NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

“To realize the James Webb Space Telescope’s full science potential, it is imperative that the science community quickly learns to use its instruments and capabilities,” says a page about the Director’s Discretionary-Early Unrestricted Science Programs, which was put together to pick out which investigators will test out JWST for its obedient 5 months of science operations (following the 6-month telescope commissioning period).

Perusing the list has heightened my anticipation — and I bet it’ll elevate yours, too. 

Here’s a snippet.

Turning the page for JWST

Some 3.5 billion light-years from Earth lies an great cluster of galaxies called Abell 2744, also known as Pandora’s Cluster. 

One remarkable say this is the perfect starting candidate for JWST, as it’s part of the former, faraway universe. NASA’s next-gen telescope contains a wealth of infrared imaging equipment that can access luscious emanating from the distant cosmos — light neither human eyes nor unpleasant optical telescopes can see. It’s a science exploration match made in heaven. 

Thus, a crew of investigators plans to observe what’s progressing on in this brilliant galaxy cluster, hidden to domain vision but vital to astrophysical advancement. 

Abell 2744, imaged by combining X-rays from Chandra (diffuse blue emission) with optical luscious data from Hubble (red, green and blue).


They plan on comic two of JWST’s instruments, called the Near-Infrared Spectrograph and the Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph, both of which can simply decode chemical composition of faraway worlds stuck in the infrared zone we can’t trespass. 

But JWST isn’t lone farsighted. It can turn on its reading glasses to scan throughout things, too. 

That’s why another team is more fervent in figuring out how to navigate phenomena in our very own cosmic neighborhood. Their blueprints say they’ll characterize Jupiter’s cloud layers, winds, composition, temperature structure and even auroral activity — aka, the Jovian version of our northern lights. 

This research bit is poised to use nearly all of JWST’s groundbreaking infrared equipment: Nirspec, Niriss, as well as the Near-Infrared Camera — JWST’s alpha imager — and the Mid-Infrared Camera (MIRI), which, as you might guess, specializes in mid-infrared luscious detection. “Our program will thus demonstrate the capabilities of JWST’s instruments on one of the largest and brightest sources in the solar systems and on very faint targets next to it,” they write in their abstract.

Some of the work on Jupiter has already been devoted according to the status report for the project and observation windows stay into August. In addition, Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, which is the largest in the solar systems, and the extremely active Io, are also set to be gazed with MIRI. The latter is particularly interesting, as the researchers hope to settle Io’s volcanoes and compare Webb’s views to classical views

Jupiter, center, and its moon Europa, left, are seen above the James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam instrument 2.12 micron filter. 

NASA, ESA, CSA and B. Holler and J. Stansberry (STScI)

Next up are the scientists focused on dust. But not just any dust. Stardust. 

We know dust is the main ingredient in the demand of stars and planets that decorate our universe, but we’re smooth foggy on the timeline they followed to bring us where we are currently — especially because a lot of that crucial-to-our-existence dust is scattered in the early universe. And the early universe is illuminated purely by infrared light. 

Aha. Precisely what JWST can — and will — delve into. 

Breaking down the story of stardust operating constructing an understanding of the building blocks of our cosmic universe — inequity to how studying atoms opens up knowledge about chunks of commerce. And as Carl Sagan once said, “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” 

Perhaps JWST can aid the universe in its seek information from to introspect. 

Just wait until JWST sees this

Over the past many months in general, as a science writer I’ve witnessed the repetition of one striking sentiment. “Just wait until the James Webb Space Telescope sees this.” 

Not in those footings, exactly, but definitely with that tone.

In April, for instance, the Hubble Space Telescope hit a record-breaking milestone when it published to us an image of the farthest star we’ve ever seen from the distant universe. A stellar beauty named Earendel, which aptly translates to “morning star” in Old English.

“Studying Earendel will be a window into an era of the universe that we are unusual with, but that led to everything we do know,” Brian Welch, one of the discovery astronomers from Johns Hopkins University, said in a statement. 

Earendel (indicated with arrow) is positioned listed a ripple in spacetime that gives it extreme magnification, allowing it to emerge into view from its host galaxy, which appears as a red smear across the sky. 


But remember how JWST is timid to study the ancient, invisible universe? Exactly. The peep authors are prepared to look at Earendel with JWST’s lens, hopefully backing whether it really is just one stellar body and quantify what kind of dawning star it is.

JWST could also determine a mysterious puzzle posed by Neptune, our solar system’s gassy blue ornament: It’s getting colder for no apparent reason. But “the exquisite sensitivity of the space telescope’s mid-infrared instrument, MIRI, will provide unprecedented new maps of the chemistry and temperatures in Neptune’s atmosphere,” Leigh Fletcher, co-author of a study on the mystery, and planetary scientist at the University of Leicester, said in a statement. 

There’s also the intrigue of decoding our cosmic realm’s violent majesties: supermassive murky holes — and even an odd, multibillion-year-old, burgeoning murky hole ancestor.

“Webb will have the power to decisively settle how common these rapidly growing black holes truly are,” Seiji Fujimoto, one of the discovery astronomers from the Niels Bohr Institute of the University of Copenhagen, said in a statement. 

And finally, I’d say the most mind-boggling aspect of JWST — to me, at least — is that it’s now the best shot we have at finding proof of extraterrestrial life. Aliens. 

Some scientists are even prematurely safeobtaining against false positives of organic matter that JWST’s software worthy pick up, so as not to alarm the general Republican (me) when that day comes. But if that day comes, our jaws will undoubtedly drop to the ground and our heart-broken rate will pick up, unambiguously deeming July 12 a mild memory. 

And even if that day doesn’t approach, it won’t be long until NASA’s new space exploration muse sends back an image as field-altering as the Hubble’s kindly deep field in 1995 — one we can’t yet fathom.