The world was impressed – and equally intrigued – by the immensity of first images released by NASA James Webb Telescope. The space probe has brought unprecedented views of Stephan’s Quintet, the Southern Ring Nebula, the Carina Nebula, a complex of galaxies where it is possible to observe a 13.1 billion-year-old analysis of the atmosphere of an exoplanet. .
The observed photos are only the beginning of Webb’s mission. “It is by no means the final result of the operation”, emphasizes the coordinator of the Astronomy Department at the University of São Paulo (USP), Roberto Dias da Costa. For him, the window opened by space research, including, should be the first step for humanity to find life outside Earth.
“Among the most sensational discoveries that Webb should provide us, I highlight two things. First, the demonstration of the existence of extraterrestrial biological activity. This discovery, and it will certainly happen, has the potential to be transformative. scientific, but also ethical, cultural, religious and psychological”, projects Dias da Costa. This life, however, will not be like the different films in the cinema brought to our imagination. The astronomer jokes that “ships arriving in New York” are science fiction and that he believes that the initial manifestations will be in bacteria or algae.
Another point that encourages Dias da Costa about future prospects is within astrophysics and his research at the academy. He trusts that Webb will elucidate the nature of Dark Energy and another modern science mystery. “What are the reasons the expansion of the universe is accelerating? This intrigues astronomers and astrophysicists.” He recalls that the telescope will be at the forefront of knowledge, but not alone. Others are being designed. “We will have telescopes with more than 20 meters in diameter, called ELTs, they are a fundamental part and will be in the next decades of studies”.
Importance for humanity and the main revelations already made by Webb
Designed 25 years ago, the billion-dollar mission – with an approximate value of 10 billion dollars – has its impacts on Planet Earth and humanity in two primary aspects: technological and knowledge development. “Technological advances are driven by basic research. Electronics emerged like this, in many researches related to astronomy. Notebook is another example that appears in moon exploration research. We have a huge amount of by-products (…) the fundamental point remains being the advancement of knowledge. We leave the caves because we are curious. The curiosity to understand our surroundings takes us forward”, explains the astronomer.
Cluster of galaxies – Photo: Nasa / AFP / CP
In the records published by NASA, it is possible to observe a set of galaxies at a distance of 4.6 billion light years (above) that generates a gravitational lensing effect and allows us to see primordial objects, even more distant. “This photo is one of the ones that caught my attention the most. In the background of the image, there is a galaxy from 13.1 billion years ago. As the universe is 13.8 billion years old, it means that we are observing a galaxy of the first billion year. It is a primitive galaxy, with an immense area for research”, points out Dias da Costa.
The relationship with time raises doubts about its passage through space. The astronomer explains that Webb’s gaze is deep and goes further back in time compared to the Hubble Telescope, its predecessor. “Let’s remember that information in the universe does not travel instantaneously. It has a certain speed, the speed of light. When we look at the sun, for example, we see it as it was eight minutes ago. the Earth. If you look at the other star closer, it is four light years away”.
Stephan’s Quintet – Photo: NASA / AFP / CP
Exoplanets, planets around stars other than the Sun, also caught the astronomer’s attention. “I highlight the spectrum of the exoplanet showing the presence of the water molecule. They are a cutting-edge topic nowadays and it is new. I always joke that, when I started to study, two planets were known around other stars and through science fiction: ‘Vulcan and Tatooine’. Today, we already know more than 5,200”. According to him, the way that Webb quickly identified the presence of water will help in the progress of studies in a forceful way. “Those who study exoplanets are after biomarkers, they are molecules that indicate biological activity, such as methane, ozone, etc.”
Webb vs Hubble Differences
The main change between Webb and Hubble is in the capture capability. “Hubble operates in the visible ultraviolet range and Webb operates in the infrared. These are not identical images, they are analogous. The galaxy cluster is analogous to an image that Hubble took using several days and was taken with 12 hours of exposure.” Webb’s diameter is three times that of Hubble. “This means that it has an area ten times larger. It has been designed since its construction to be as efficient as possible in the infrared range of the spectrum. The mirrors are golden”, adds Dias da Costa.
Photos were edited?
The beauty cast doubt on the realism of the images. The astronomer clarifies that they underwent small changes to reach the visible range, with a color palette compatible with the physics of each object. “The telescope operates in the infrared range, as it is more efficient for its purposes. All images were collected in the infra and then processed in order to arrive at the visible range with a compatible color palette”.
Southern Ring Nebula – Photo: Nasa / AFP / CP
Dias da Costa uses the portrait of the cluster of galaxies and the South Ring Nebula to explain his point. “The photo has galaxy with bluish white tones, younger, and others with reddish tones, older and distant. The tones were chosen and adjusted by the computer. This was done so that the results reveal as much as possible of the physical characteristics (. ..) the Planetary Nebula NGC 3132, goes through the same process. It has a color palette, chosen to highlight nuances, the chemical composition of the inner and outer part of the object. Everything was processed with great care”.