Webb telescope gives insight into how stars and planets form

(ORDO NEWS) — The ongoing successful alignment of the optics for the NASA Webb Telescope’s near-infrared instruments has shifted the commissioning team’s attention to the cold – we are carefully monitoring the cooling of the Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI) instrument to a final operating temperature of less than 7 kelvins (-447 degrees Fahrenheit). , or -266 degrees Celsius).

During this slow cooling, we continue other activities, including monitoring near-infrared instruments. As MIRI cools, other major components of the telescope, such as the rear panel and mirrors, also continue to cool and approach their operating temperatures.

Last week, the Webb team fired up an engine to keep the telescope in orbit around the second Lagrange point. This was the second run since Webb’s arrival in final orbit in January; such runs will be repeated periodically throughout the lifetime of the mission.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been reporting on some of Webb’s anticipated scientific breakthroughs, starting with the study of the first stars and galaxies in the early universe.

Today we’ll see Webb peer into our own Milky Way galaxy, where stars and planets form. Klaus Pontoppidan, Research Fellow at the Webb Space Telescope Science Institute, talks about the cool science plans to study the formation of stars and planets with Webb:

“In our first year of scientific activity, we expect Webb to write completely new chapters in the history of our origin – the formation of stars and planets.

It is the study of the formation of stars and planets using Webb that will allow us to connect observations of mature exoplanets to their birth environment, and our solar Webb’s infrared capabilities are ideal for studying the formation of stars and planets for three reasons.

Infrared light is excellent at seeing through dust, it picks up the thermal signatures of young stars and planets, and it reveals the presence of important chemical compounds such as like water and organic chemistry,” said Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb Project Scientist, Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Maryland.

“Let’s look at each cause in more detail. We often hear that infrared light travels through dust, revealing newborn stars and planets that are still in their parent clouds. In fact, the medium-intensity infrared light observed by MIRI can travel through clouds in 20 times denser than visible light.

Because young stars form quickly (by cosmic standards, anyway) – in just a few hundred thousand years – their ancestral clouds do not have time to dissipate, hiding what is happening at this critical stage from visible view. “Webb” allows us to understand what happens in these very first stages, when gas and dust are actively destroyed, forming new stars.

“The second reason has to do with the young stars themselves and the giant planets. Both begin their lives as large, plump structures that shrink over time.

While young stars become hotter as they mature, and giant planets cool, both typically emit more light in the infrared than in the visible, which means Webb is great for detecting new young stars and planets and can help us understand the physics behind their early evolution.

Have used similar methods for nearby star-forming clusters, but Webb will find new young stars throughout the galaxy, in the Magellanic Clouds and beyond.

These observations will be sensitive to most bulk molecules and will allow us to develop a chemical census at the earliest stages of planetary formation. Not surprisingly, a significant amount of Webb’s early scientific research is focused on measuring how planetary systems form molecules that may be important for the origin of life as we know it.

“We will keep a close eye on MIRI as it cools. As the only mid-infrared instrument on the Webb, MIRI will be especially important for understanding the origins of stars and planets.”

The James Webb Space Telescope is the largest, most powerful and most complex space telescope ever built.


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