December 4, 2023

How the Webb Telescope is changing our view of space

Never before has humanity looked at the universe with such clarity: In the December issue, bild der Wissenschaft reports on the success story of the James Webb Space Telescope so far. Since last year, it has already provided many stunning images of astronomical structures and deep insights into the universe. It expands our knowledge of the universe enormously, but in doing so it also exposes astronomy to difficulties in explaining things.

What are those bright spots there, what lies beyond the sky and how did it all happen? Looking up at the sky, early humans with complex minds might have asked themselves such questions. At some point, logical deductions replaced religious and mythological ideas, and increasingly sophisticated tools were developed for a curious look into space. This story has now reached a new high point: since July 2022, the outlook on space has become revolutionary. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) opened its “eyes” at Lagrange point 2, about 1.5 million kilometers away from us.

New dimensions of cutting-edge research

In the first article of a three-part title story, bdw astronomy editor Rüdiger Vass first provides basic reports on the functions, performance and application areas of this amazing reflecting telescope. It can enable various astronomical insights – from small objects in our solar system to distant stars and planetary systems to very distant galaxies. As shown in its use so far, the James Webb Space Telescope has been able to significantly exceed some expectations for its performance. It has already provided huge amounts of data, sparking the interest of astronomers around the world, FAS reports. In terms of fuel supply, this could continue for another 25 years or so. However, impacts from micrometeorites threaten the sensitive structure, Vass said in an article titled “Super Observatory.”

Cosmic genealogy

Fass then focuses on a particularly exciting area of ​​application for the James Webb Space Telescope: exploring the most distant galaxies and thus the beginning and foundations of our universe. To the astonishment of astronomers, findings from the James Webb Space Telescope’s deep infrared view indicate that there appear to be an increasing number of luminous primordial galaxies than previously assumed. The recorded distances, and thus the looking back time, have become even more impressive: the Webb telescope has captured weak light from very distant galaxies that already existed 300 to 500 million years after the Big Bang. These are the oldest star systems ever known. Fass also provides new information about the special features of these primordial galaxies in the article “Back to the Origins.”

In the third part of the title topic, the author takes a closer look at the “digestive difficulties” caused by some new James Webb Space Telescope data in astronomy. The unexpected abundance and brightness of distant galaxies seems to contradict some basic assumptions. There is still debate about whether measurement errors, selection effects, foreground galaxies, or extremely active black holes could play a distorting role. But it’s also possible for stars to form at surprising speeds or for mysterious physical effects. In an article titled “Cosmology in the Acid Test,” Vass highlights how the new James Webb Space Telescope results could change the Standard Model of the Universe.

You can read the articles on the cover topic “Foray into the Early Universe” online as part of a bdw+ subscription, or you can find them in the December issue of bild der Wissenschaft, which will be available in stores from 17 November.

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