The powerful James Webb Space Telescope has unveiled its first images: Is life hiding somewhere in the universe?

Essential
This Tuesday, July 12, NASA will unveil the first images of the brand new James Webb Space Telescope. This is a remarkable step for the scientific world, which is finally seeing the first results of years of work. Observations will quickly lead to a smaller star system: from TRAPPIST-1, consider discovering life in the Universe, perhaps.

That’s it! The first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) arrive this Tuesday, July 12 Images that will amaze enthusiasts as their accuracy is revolutionary. This is an event that astronomers around the world have been waiting for for years.

What will these first images be delivered by the famous successor to the Hubble telescope? A galaxy? Cosmic dust cloud? Distant planets? The target has not yet been revealed by NASA and researchers have made bets.

James Webb’s first shot probably won’t show anything new, but it will demonstrate the telescope’s power. It has a giant mirror with a diameter of 6 meters, while its older brother Hubble’s mirror was only 2.4 meters. The aim will be to show the most spectacular images possible because “NASA has invested a lot of money in this project, the general public has to be there too”, according to researcher Jeremy Leconte of the University of Bordeaux.

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A long term task

JWST was launched into space by an Ariane 5 rocket from the Kourou Space Center in French Guiana on December 25. The telescope then headed for an observation point 1.5 million kilometers from Earth, which it reached on January 24. A particularly successful trip, which allowed James Webb to remain under observation for 20 years instead of the five years originally announced.

The James Webb Telescope uses very powerful cameras to observe in the infrared domain and directly from space. He would then be able to go far back into the universe’s past, to see the first galaxies forming, shortly after the Big Bang.

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James Webb in Search of Life

A small part of the sky is of particular interest to this new telescope. Aquarius contains a red dwarf called TRAPPIST-1 with seven exoplanets (planets that do not orbit the Sun) orbiting it. “The peculiarity of this system is that it is very close to us, only 40 light-years away, which is minimal on the scale of the galaxy,” explained researcher Michael Gillon of the University of Liège, who, with his team, discovered Trappist-1 seven years ago.

Three to four planets in this system are in the “stellar habitable zone,” meaning liquid water could potentially develop. “This system has established itself as the best target for James Webb, in the field of research on exoplanets, it is even the main target” added the astrophysicist. In fact, 25% of JWST’s time was devoted to studying exoplanets, and 11% of that time was reserved specifically for TRAPPIST-1.

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The main mission of the James Webb telescope will be to analyze the presence or absence of atmospheres on the planets of the TRAPIST-1 system. “We hope that at the end of the first cycle of observations (from now until the end of 2023) we will have the first answers to our questions” the scientist noted. The presence of an atmosphere is essential for life to develop on a planet. If one or more planets have atmospheres, JWST will analyze their composition.

The results aren’t there yet, but the scientific world is moving on from this great leap forward, and hopes to answer some of humanity’s biggest questions lie in the images and data provided by this brand new telescope.

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