Space enthusiasts hold their breath

Space enthusiasts around the world are holding their breath: The James Webb Space Telescope, the first ever launched into orbit, is set to release its first color images of the universe on Tuesday, and it promises to be spectacular.

Distant galaxies and nebula nurseries of stars… NASA announced Friday the names of the first five targets selected. But the images were jealously kept away from the prying eyes of the curious, to create suspense and surprise.

• Read more: What will we see in the first color images from the James Webb Telescope?

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“I’m really looking forward to not having to keep this secret anymore, it’s going to be a big relief,” Klaus Pontopitan, chief scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, who is in charge of James Webb’s operations, told AFP.

At the end of June, Bill Nelson, the head of NASA, promised “the deepest picture of our universe ever taken”.

The images should both appeal to the general public with their beauty, but demonstrate to astronomers around the world the full power of the internal science instruments. It is for this reason that they target various cosmic objects.

Experts can get an idea of ​​what James Webb is capable of and practice interpreting the collected data using specialized software. Gives the start of a great scientific adventure.

“When I saw the images for the first time (…), I suddenly learned three new things about the universe that I didn’t know,” said Dan Ko, an AFP astronomer at the Baltimore Institute and one of the lucky ones. Few in faith. “It completely blew me away.”

He testified that James Webb would “change our understanding of the universe.”

The names of the observed cosmic objects are as poetic as they are enigmatic: the Carina Nebula and the Astral Ring — gigantic clouds of star-forming gas and dust — the Stephen’s Quintet — a small group of galaxies — or the galaxy SMACS 0723, which acts as a magnifying glass, dim behind it. Allows you to see the lights, and…

However, the sublime colors that emerge in photographs cannot be seen directly through binoculars.

Light breaks down into different wavelengths, and James Webb works in infrared, which is invisible to the human eye. Infrared light is also rich in colour, but not in the visible spectrum, so these are ‘translated’ into colors we can distinguish.

Thanks to these observations in the near and mid-infrared, James Webb could see through the impenetrable dust clouds of his predecessor, the legendary Hubble Space Telescope. Launched in 1990 and still in operation, it has a small infrared capability but operates mainly in visible light and ultraviolet.

“While Hubble was able to take an image of a distant galaxy, it could not distinguish a squirrel from an elephant,” AFP David Elbas, French astrophysicist.

“We’re going to find the formation of galaxies buried in interstellar dust, because they’re invisible because they’re buried in dust chrysalises,” he said, passionate, passionate and patient about finding images.

Other big differences between the two telescopes: James Webb’s main mirror is nearly three times larger than Hubble’s, and it’s further developed: 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, Hubble’s 600 km.

The first James Webb telescope to be released on Tuesday is spectroscopy, a technique used to determine the chemical composition of distant matter. In this case, WASP-96 b is a giant planet composed mainly of gas and located outside our solar system.

Exoplanets (planets orbiting a star other than our Sun) are one of James Webb’s main research areas. About 5000 have been discovered since 1995, but they are still very mysterious.

The goal is to study their atmospheres to determine whether they can become habitable worlds and conducive to the development of life.

The release of these first images will mark the official start of the telescope’s first cycle of scientific observations.

Several hundred monitoring projects proposed by researchers around the world have already been selected by a panel of experts for this first year of operation.

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