Will NASA’s New Telescope Discover ET Life?
The spectacular first images from the James Webb Space Telescope are finally here and they do not disappoint.
After years of planning, construction, delays, and a cost of about $10 billion, we finally have the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope. Launched in December of 2021, the JWST is the largest and most powerful space telescope ever to be put in space.
Astronomers have waited a lifetime to see with such amazing clarity deep into space. JWST does this by operating in the infrared spectrum; it “sees” light that is outside the visible spectrum of our naked eye and previous telescopes like Hubble.
NASA released photos of the first five targets noting, “These first images from the world’s largest and most powerful space telescope demonstrate Webb at its full power, ready to begin its mission to unfold the infrared universe.”
We caught up with astronomer and Gaia News contributor Marc D’Antonio on the road in Arizona, to break down the images.
“I saw these images and the release of all five different images represent a different aspect of what this telescope can do — absolutely astonishing to me — from galaxies to gas clouds, this telescope hands down, has the ability to show us so much that we don’t understand.”
Most laypeople are impressed by the images, but what does an astronomer see? What should we be looking for?
“If you look at that large-scale shot, the deep field shot that the JWST took, that image encompasses a whole bunch of things happening there. In one case, you see galaxies that are stretched and curved. That is called gravitational lensing and we’re seeing the result of a galaxy cluster that’s in the foreground warping images of galaxies behind it. Those red galaxies on the outside, those galaxies are literally 13.6 billion years old. These are formed just after the Big Bang itself. This is kind of cool, I should say, it’s filling in the gaps. We haven’t been able to see back that far with any of our instrumentation. And when you say ‘see back that far,’ it really means the galaxies are so far away and moving so fast away from us, that their light has all shifted into the far-infrared where none of our telescopes have been able to penetrate until now.”
How will this help in the search for extraterrestrial life?
“This telescope is going to help us in the search for extraterrestrial life when it starts looking at exoplanet atmospheres. Now, it looked at the WASP-96 b planet’s atmosphere and it could see chemical traces in the atmosphere. This is something that’s extremely important because right now, up to this point, we have not been able to really, accurately look at atmospheres of planets around other stars. Now we have that capability. This is going to herald in an era of potentially finding another Earth-like planet with an oxygenated atmosphere.”
What does this latest discovery mean for the future of astronomy, space exploration, and even humanity?
“If you look at the JWST and the data they’re pulling in, and in a sense, all of these projects embody the human need to find answers. That’s what we’re doing, we’re hunting down answers to whether we’re alone in the universe and we’re trying to solve mysteries of the universe. The Webb’s first five images have already started to solve a huge number of mysteries.”
Decades After Landing on Mars, We May Find Proof of Past Life
After 25 years of rovers landing on Mars, many are looking forward to the next chapter of Mars exploration, which may include excavating deep into the red planet. In July 1997, NASA’s Pathfinder landed on Mars and began its mission to demonstrate how a robotic rover would land on the red planet.
Using an innovative design, the rover landed on Mars with a parachute and a series of giant airbags to cushion its blow. The Carl Sagan memorial station and the Sojourner Rover outlived their projected lifespan, and in the years following sent magnificent images back to Earth.
The lander returned more than 16,500 images and the rover sent back 550 more, in addition to chemical analyses of rocks, soil, and data on wind and weather. The final transmission from the Mars Pathfinder was on September 27, 1997, but the data it provided helped scientists to conclude Mars was once wet and warm, and rounded rocks on the surface indicate they may have been worn down by running water, and if there was water, there could have been life.
Flash forward to today, NASA’s Perseverance Rover, on the red planet since February of 2021, is tasked with finding past or present life and seeing if humans could one day explore or colonize Mars.