the essential
This Tuesday, July 12, NASA will unveil the first images of the all-new James Webb Space Telescope. This is an extraordinary step forward for the scientific world, which is finally seeing the first fruits of many years of work. Observations will quickly move to a small star system: TRAPPIST-1 to, perhaps, consider the discovery of life in the Universe.

That’s all ! The first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) arrive on Tuesday, July 12. Images that will amaze fans as their precision is revolutionary. This is an event that astronomers around the world have been waiting for for several years.

What will these first images be delivered by the famous successor to the Hubble telescope? A galaxy? A cloud of cosmic dust? Distant planets? The target has not yet been revealed by NASA and the bets are on the researchers.

James Webb’s first shot will probably show nothing new, but it will demonstrate the power of the telescope. He has a huge mirror of 6 meters in diameter, where that of his older brother Hubble was only 2.4 meters. The aim will be to show the most spectacular images possible because according to Jérémy Leconte, researcher at the University of Bordeaux “NASA has invested a lot of money in this project, the general public must also be present”.

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A long-term job

The JWST was launched into space on December 25 by an Arianne 5 rocket from the Kourou space center in French Guiana. The telescope then headed for an observation point 1.5 million kilometers from the earth, reaching it on January 24. A particularly successful journey, which will allow James Webb to remain under observation for 20 years instead of the five initially announced.

The James Webb Telescope observes in the infrared domain thanks to very powerful cameras and directly from space. He will then be able to go far back into the Universe’s past, shortly after the Big Bang, to see the first galaxies in formation.

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James Webb in search of life

A small portion of the sky is of particular interest to this new telescope. In the constellation Aquarius there is a red dwarf called TRAPPIST-1 around which seven exoplanets (planets that do not orbit the sun) orbit. “This system has the particularity of being very close to us, only 40 light years away, which on the scale of the galaxy is minimal” explains Michael Gillon, a researcher at the University of Liège who, with his team, discovered TRAPPIST -1 seven years ago.

Three to four planets of this system are in the “habitable zone of the star”, which means that liquid water could potentially develop. “This system has established itself as the best target for James Webb, as far as exoplanet research is concerned, it is even the main target,” adds the astrophysicist. In fact, 25% of JWST’s time was devoted to studying exoplanets, and 11% of that time was dedicated specifically to TRAPPIST-1.

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The main mission of the James Webb telescope will be to analyze the presence or absence of an atmosphere on the planets of the TRAPPIST-1 system. “We hope that at the end of the first cycle of observation (between now and the end of 2023) we will have the first answers to our questions” specifies the scientist. The presence of an atmosphere is essential for the development of life on a planet. If one or more planets have an atmosphere, the JWST will analyze their composition.

The results aren’t there yet, but the scientific world is grappling with this great leap forward and the hope of answering some of humanity’s biggest questions lies in the images and data provided by this brand new telescope.

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