The first observations of the James Webb telescope revealed on Tuesday

The first observations of the James Webb telescope revealed on Tuesday

NASA claims that the quality of these observations will reveal the exceptional scientific capabilities of the instruments of this technological jewel valued at 14,000 million Canadian dollars.

We can not wait! The people at NASA said the images brought tears to their eyes, so our expectations are very high.enthuses Nathalie Ouellette, James Webb Communications Scientist in Canada and Coordinator of the Institute for Exoplanet Research (iREx).

Artist's illustration of a mirror in space.

Artist’s illustration showing the appearance of the Webb Telescope unfolded in space.


The results, presented by NASA in collaboration with the European (ESA) and Canadian space agencies, will be announced at a press conference to be held at 10:30 am at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. , near Washington.

Some Canadian mission leaders will be present, including Professor René Doyon of the University of Montreal. For her part, Nathalie Ouellette will attend the conference at the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), in Saint-Hubert, with colleagues and answer questions from the media.

The goal [de la présentation] is to show the telescope’s ability to study a range of different celestial objects. »

a quote from Nathalie Ouellette, coordinator of the Exoplanet Research Institute

The event will be followed around the world by astrophysical research teams and astronomy enthusiasts. NASA revealed some targets from the initial observations earlier this week.

We already know that the spectrum of an exoplanet’s atmosphere will be presented, which is very exciting.says Nathalie Ouellette.

This exoplanet is called WASP-96. Its spectrum should provide essential information about the chemical and molecular elements of its atmosphere. It could also allow us to understand how a planet was formed, but also to know if it harbors elements that reveal the presence of life.

In addition to the exoplanet, four celestial bodies are observed here:

  • the Carina Nebula, one of the largest and brightest in the sky;
Colorful clouds and dots on black background.

The Carina Nebula as seen by Hubble in visible (left) and infrared (right) light. The Webb Telescope will provide a new portrait of the celestial object.

Photo: NASA/ESA/Hubble

  • the South Ring Nebula, an expanding cloud of gas around a dying star;
  • Stephan’s Quintet, a compact group of galaxies;
  • SMACS 0723, a massive galaxy cluster.

The most anticipated element of the conference remains without a doubt the revelation of the deepest image ever taken of the Universe. A feat that promises to beat the record set by Hubble with its ultra-deep field that revolutionized astronomy in 2004.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field.  Many colored dots on a black background.

The Hubble Ultra Deep Field, an image that required 800 exposures taken during Hubble’s 400 orbits around Earth in 2003 and 2004, shows nearly 10,000 galaxies, including some of the most distant galaxies known at the time.


At that time, Hubble collected visible and near-infrared radiation covering 30 millionths of a small region of the northern hemisphere’s celestial sphere, resulting in a spectacular image showing thousands of galaxies of different ages, shapes, and colors, some of them which existed. when the Universe was only 800 million years old.

galactic appetizer

As a prelude, the three partner agencies in the Webb mission published last Wednesday an image of stars and galaxies that reveals the power of the space observatory.

Many luminous points on a black background.

Image captured during a May test of the Webb Telescope’s Canadian Precision Guidance Sensor. It provides a remarkable insight into the power of the space observatory.


Captured last May, this image of the star HD147980 is the result of 72 exposures over 32 hours. It represents an overlap of observations that have not been optimized to detect faint objects. However, the image still reveals objects in very low light.

This fantastic image shows that the FGS works so well that it could also be used for scientific purposes, even if it wasn’t designed for that in the first place. »

a quote from Nathalie Ouellette, coordinator of the Exoplanet Research Institute

At the moment, it is the deepest image of the Universe in the infrared. But the reality could change on Tuesday.

canadian contribution

The James Webb Telescope is able to look further into the Universe than any other telescope thanks to its huge main mirror and its four instruments that perceive infrared signals, allowing it to pass through dust clouds.

Canada provides two of the four mission-critical Webb instruments: NIRISS (for Near-Infrared Spectrograph and Imager) and FGS (Precision Guidance Sensor).

NIRISS collected some of the data that will be shared at the press conference, along with the US NIRCam, the mission’s primary imager.

NIRISS has specialized imaging capabilities to study the atmospheres of exoplanets and very distant galaxies.Nathalie Ouellette points out.

As for the FGS, its work is also at the center of Tuesday’s announcements and all those that will follow, since it is the guide detector that allows the telescope to point an object and make observations with stability and precision. It is also thanks to the FGS and the NIRCam imager that James Webb was able to sketch the portrait of the star HD147980.

The FGS is like the eye of the telescope. »

a quote from Nathalie Ouellette, coordinator of the Exoplanet Research Institute

NIRISS and FGS were designed by a team co-led by Professor René Doyon of the University of Montreal.

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A new era of exploration

Launched on December 25 from French Guiana, the Webb telescope arrived at its work site 1.5 million kilometers from Earth in January.

Its structures and scientific instruments are already deployed, calibrated and tested.

The results published this Tuesday thus mark the transition between the start-up phase of the telescope and the start of its scientific mission.

For the first five months of the mission, James Webb’s instruments will be used exclusively by teams associated with the initial thirteen observing programs that were selected following a competition based on their scientific interest in astronomical research.

Several Canadian and Quebec scientists participate in these programs.

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