December 25, 2021, is a rather special Christmas for Pierre Guillard. In his living room in the Paris region, the astrophysicist attended the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope from the Guyana Space Center in Kourou with his family. He is part of the international team that designed the revolutionary infrared telescope, which aims to unravel the mysteries of the universe and the birth of the first galaxies.
The mission of this gem of technology is to enable us “There are many advances in our knowledge of the solar system, for example the chemical composition of the surface of asteroids. Asteroids are very small objects. You need a very powerful, very fine telescope to observe them. And it’s actually quite unique.” Pierre Guillard explains. It is the culmination of more than 30 years of collaborative work by thousands of researchers, engineers and technicians from around the world. Pierre Guillard worked exclusively on Miri, one of the cameras on the telescope. In recent months, scientist James Webb has followed every step of his journey into space, with doses of stress and emotion at every stage.
He admitted on the day of the launch itself Paying it off “Little tears. It was a very touching moment. The kids also realized there was ‘daddy’s rocket’, even though I had nothing to do with the launch. It was a moving family moment. And then we followed the journey of the telescope and crossed our fingers that everything blooms well and everything works well,” Comment by Pierre Guillard.
Despite years of work and investment, with all the precautions, sophisticated equipment, thousands of researchers, including Pierre Guillard, experienced anxiety and stress in the long months between launch and the first images. “There are so many things that could go wrong. This project has been an incredible adventure. There have been storms, delays, hiccups. It hasn’t been a linear path at all, so yes, there has been a lot of pressure. The deployment of the telescope, it’s been incredible. There were 300 points that could be faulty. Everyone was shaking. When we got the first clear image of this calibration star, we thought ‘wow, it works this time’. Pierre Guillard declared.
The other result was the July 12 viewing of the first images from the telescope simulcast around the world. “A moment of intense emotion. There, we measure all the work done for 30 years. It’s not so easy for the general public because it’s a telescope that sees light that our eyes can’t see, an infrared light. And all this, you To explain how it is different from what we have done before with this telescope. It is very exciting to see the invisible and it is something that I think is quite poetic”, Pierre Guillard says.
Several keys to understanding will be revealed with these images. “It’s really a time machine. Hubble, the previous generation, or Spitzer, is more efficient than the infrared satellites. And so, all of a sudden, we’re going to try to go back to this first light. So it really has to go back to the origin of the Earth, our own origin. And that’s exactly what James Webb would do. It was night after the Big Bang, it was dark, there were still no stars, and with this telescope we’ll see, we’ll witness. The first stars and the first galaxies ignited for the first time,” encouraged Pierre Guillard.
“We’re going to see the first glimpses of the universe that then formed the planets, the stars. Life is really going back to our own origins.”Pierre Guillard
An exciting phase of observing all this data now opens with the massive data provided by the telescope: “Unfortunately I’m going to work on it while I’m on vacation, because one of the images released on July 12 is the image of Stefan’s quintet. It’s actually a group of galaxies that dance together, that interact gravitationally together, and that’s the object I worked on during my thesis. It could be,” Comment by Pierre Guillard.
This project represents an important part of Pierre Guillard’s activities, “It is a childhood dream and a project that takes up a lot of space in my career as a researcher scientifically. It really is the perfect instrument to do the science I want to do. Having the opportunity to technically put together an instrument, but then use it, is like getting a great Christmas present. Manipulating a telescope like this, using it, receiving data from the most impressive telescope, from the most pharaonic project ever undertaken. Yes, it’s a childhood dream.”
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