Television: The JWST on NOVA, Again

Credit: PBS

NOVA has a new episode this season on the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Unlike last season’s episode, Ultimate Space Telescope, which discussed the creation, launch, and early success of the space telescope, this episode, New Eye on the Universe, goes deeper into the goals of the space telescope as well as the findings since the first images appeared.

Here is a list of the topics covered in the latest episode (and their spot on the recording):

  • 00:00 Introduction
  • 04:11 The James Webb Space Telescope’s First Images
  • 05:47 Searching for Life on Exoplanets: Are We Alone in the Universe?
  • 14:40 Looking for Life in Our Own Solar System: Moons of Jupiter and Saturn
  • 18:52 Adjusting New Images from JWST: Science Meets Art
  • 23:55 Studying Supermassive Black Holes and Merging Galaxies
  • 30:25 Detecting the Oldest Galaxies with the JWST
  • 37:13 Troubleshooting the New Telescope’s Light Measurements
  • 42:12 Detecting the Atmosphere of a Rocky Exoplanet
  • 46:28 Results from the Team’s New Studies
  • 51:05 Conclusion

The section on adjusting the images is interesting in that we would not see these beautiful images as portrayed even if we could fly though space for an up-close look. Our eyes cannot see all of what the JWST can see in infrared. This is further explained in a Scientific American article, “Are the James Webb Space Telescope’s Pictures ‘Real’?

You can watch the latest episode on the PBS internet site, your local PBS station, or YouTube.

Pic of the Week: The Shining Nucleus of NGC 7496

Image (Credit): Barred spiral galaxy NGC 7496. (NASA, ESA, CSA, Janice Lee (NOIRLab), Joseph DePasquale (STScI))

This week’s image from the James Webb Space Telescope shows the barred spiral galaxy NGC 7496, which is over 24 million light-years away from Earth. The glowing center is a supermassive black hole.

Here is the full story about the image from the Webb Space Telescope site:

The spiral arms of NGC 7496, one of a total of 19 galaxies targeted for study by the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS) collaboration, are filled with cavernous bubbles and shells overlapping one another in this image from Webb’s Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI). These filaments and hollow cavities are evidence of young stars releasing energy and, in some cases, blowing out the gas and dust of the interstellar medium surrounding them.

Until Webb’s high resolution at infrared wavelengths came along, stars at the earliest point of the lifecycle in nearby galaxies like NGC 7496 remained obscured by gas and dust. Webb’s specific wavelength coverage allows for the detection of complex organic molecules called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which play a critical role in the formation of stars and planets. In Webb’s MIRI image, these are mostly found within the main dust lanes in the spiral arms. 

In their analysis of the new data from Webb, scientists were able to identify nearly 60 new, embedded cluster candidates in NGC 7496. These newly identified clusters could be among the youngest stars in the entire galaxy. 

At the center of NGC 7496, a barred spiral galaxy, is an active galactic nucleus (AGN). AGN is another way to refer to an active supermassive black hole that is emitting jets and winds. This glows quite brightly at the center of the Webb image. Additionally, Webb’s extreme sensitivity also picks up various background galaxies, which appear green or red in some instances.

Massive Galaxies Stump Astronomers

Image (Credit): JWST images of six candidate massive galaxies 500-800 million years after the Big Bang. (NASA)

I was reading the recent news that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) astonished astronomers again. We continue to get big benefits from this relatively new distant telescope.

The latest news involves massive compact galaxies that should not be there if our theories about galaxy formation are valid. The researchers behind this latest finding state the six observed galaxies were from a period about 600 million years after the Big Bang.

Lead researcher Ivo Labbe of Australia’s Swinburne University of Technology said in a statement:

The revelation that massive galaxy formation began extremely early in the history of the universe upends what many of us had thought was settled science…It turns out we found something so unexpected it actually creates problems for science. It calls the whole picture of early galaxy formation into question.

The more we look the more we learn, and the more theories we can toss out the window.

You can read more about this finding in the study published in the journal Nature.

Pic of the Week: Globular Cluster M92

Image (Credit): Globular cluster M92 captured by the JWST. (NASA, ESA, CSA, A. Pagan (STScI))

This week’s image was captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and shows globular cluster M92 located about 27,000 light-years away within our Milky Way galaxy.

Here is a little more on the image from NASA:

Detail of the globular cluster M92 captured by Webb’s NIRCam instrument. This field of view covers the lower left quarter of the right half of the full image. Globular clusters are dense masses of tightly packed stars that all formed around the same time. In M92, there are about 300,000 stars packed into a ball about 100 light-years across. The night sky of a planet in the middle of M92 would shine with thousands of stars that appear thousands of times brighter than those in our own sky. The image shows stars at different distances from the center, which helps astronomers understand the motion of stars in the cluster, and the physics of that motion

Space Stories: Stalled Martian Rover, Early Mega-Galaxies, and Soviet Space Debris

Image (Credit): Artist’s rendering of China’s Zhurong rover about to roll off the lander and drive onto Mars. (WEIBO)

Here are some recent stories of interest.

SpaceNews: “NASA Mars Orbiter Reveals China’s Zhurong Rover Has Not Moved for Months

Images from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter reveal that China’s Zhurong rover remains stationary on the Red Planet as China remains silent on the status of its spacecraft. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured images of the rover on March 11, 2022, a second on Sept. 8, 2022 and finally Feb. 7, 2023. The images were published Feb. 21 by the HiRISE Operations Center.

Los Angeles Times: “Space Telescope Spots Massive Galaxies Near Cosmic Dawn and Blows Astronomers’ Minds

Astronomers have discovered what appear to be massive galaxies dating back to within 600 million years of the big bang, suggesting the early universe may have had a stellar fast-track that produced these “monsters.” While the new James Webb Space Telescope has spotted even older galaxies, dating to within a mere 300 million years of the beginning of the universe, it’s the size and maturity of these six apparent mega-galaxies that stunned scientists. They reported their findings Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Newsweek: “Russian Rocket Crashes Back Into Russia After 42 Years

A decades-old Soviet era piece of space junk has crashed back to Earth after over 40 years in orbit, improbably crash landing back in its home country, Russia. The abandoned Soviet Vostok-2M Blok E rocket stage, weighing more than 3,000 pounds, “made an uncontrolled reentry over Novaya Zemlya at 1016 UTC Feb 20 after 42.7 years in orbit,” tweeted Jonathan McDowell, an astrophysicist and group leader at the Chandra X-ray Center Science Data Systems.