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Photonics Technologies at the Fore as First James Webb Space Telescope Images Released

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WASHINGTON, D.C., July 12, 2022 — The first images from the James Webb Space Telescope are being released today, following an initial release of a “teaser” image July 7, and a subsequent preview image released July 11 during a press conference by U.S. President Joe Biden.

The images depict space objects of scientific interest, carefully selected by an international committee of representatives from NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The first full-color image released by NASA on July 11 shows galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. Courtesy of NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI.
The first full-color image released by NASA on July 11 shows galaxy cluster SMACS 0723. Courtesy of NASA, ESA, CSA, and the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The first images depict:

Carina Nebula:
The Carina Nebula is one of the largest and brightest nebulae in the sky, located approximately 7600 light-years away in the southern constellation Carina. Nebulae are stellar nurseries where stars form. The Carina Nebula is home to many massive stars several times larger than the sun.

WASP-96b (spectrum):
WASP-96b is a giant planet outside our solar system, composed mainly of gas. The planet, located nearly 1150 light-years from Earth, orbits its star every 3.4 days. It has about half the mass of Jupiter, and its discovery was announced in 2014.

Southern Ring Nebula:
The Southern Ring, or "Eight-Burst" nebula, is a planetary nebula — an expanding cloud of gas surrounding a dying star. It is nearly half a light-year in diameter and is located approximately 2000 light-years away from Earth.

Stephan’s Quintet:
About 290 million light-years away, Stephan’s Quintet is located in the constellation Pegasus. It is notable for being the first compact galaxy group ever discovered in 1787. Four of the five galaxies within the quintet are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters.

SMACS 0723:
Massive foreground galaxy clusters magnify and distort the light of objects behind them, permitting a deep field view into both the extremely distant and intrinsically faint galaxy populations.

The telescope is widely considered the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), launched in 1990. As such, with 32 years of technological distance between the two, the JWST is significantly more powerful. It’s worth noting, however, that the JWST was designed for a different purpose than the HST. The HST can observe in the visible, ultraviolet, and near-infrared regions, while the JWST observes in a much lower frequency range — from long-wavelength visible light through mid-infrared.

The design emphasis on near to mid-infrared enables the telescope to observe objects with high redshift. Very distant and early space objects have their visible emissions shifted into the infrared, meaning that they can only be observed today with infrared astronomy. This allows it to look further back in time than any previous telescope, to the period shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago. Additionally, colder objects like debris disks and planets emit most strongly in the infrared.

JWST’s primary mirror is more than 6.5 m wide and is made up of 18 gold-coated mirror segments, built by TRW, which was acquired by Northorp Grumman and renamed Northrop Grumman Space Technology. The telescope’s technological payload, the Integrated Science Instrument Module (ISIM) is composed of four main elements, the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam), the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec), the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), and the Fine Guidance Sensor/Near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (FGS/NIRISS).

The NIRCam, built by the University of Arizona, Lockheed Martin, and Teledyne Technologies, will cover the infrared wavelength range of 0.6 to 5 μm, allowing it to detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies in the process of formation, stars in nearby galaxies, as well as young stars in the Milky Way and Kuiper Belt objects. It has 10 mercury-cadmium-telluride detector arrays, analogous to CCD sensors found in digital cameras.

the NIRSpec, built by Airbus Industries, will cover the same wavelength range as the NIRCam and will provide detailed spectral information about space objects allowing scientists to analyze physical properties including temperature, mass, and chemical composition. Its micro-electromechanical “microshutter array,” fabricated by NASA, enables it to obtain simultaneous spectra of more than 100 objects in a 9-sq-arcmin field of view. It provides medium-resolution spectroscopy over a wavelength range of 1 to 5 μm and lower-resolution spectroscopy from 0.6 to 5 μm.

Housing both a camera and a spectrograph, MIRI covers the 5- to 28-μm range, enabling it to see the redshifted light of distant galaxies, newly forming stars, and faintly visible comets. Its camera will provide wide-field, broadband imaging. Its spectrograph provides medium-resolution spectroscopy over a smaller field of view compared to the camera. The mid-infrared detectors were made by Raytheon Vision Systems.

The FGS/NIRSS serves a different purpose than the other instruments. Rather than capturing scientific information, the FGS is used to guide and point the telescope toward regions of interest. It has a wavelength range of 0.8 to 5.0 μm and features three main modes, each addressing a separate wavelength range.

To view the released images, visit www.nasa.gov/webbfirstimages.

For NASA’s livestream, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=21X5lGlDOfg.

Photonics.com
Jul 2022
GLOSSARY
astronomy
The scientific observation of celestial radiation that has reached the vicinity of Earth, and the interpretation of these observations to determine the characteristics of the extraterrestrial bodies and phenomena that have emitted the radiation.
redshift
The displacement of spectrum lines, as determined by the increasing distance between, and the relative velocity of, the observer and a light source, causing the lines to move toward the red portion of the spectrum. It is used in astrophysics to determine the rate of recession or expansion of celestial bodies. Also known as the Hubble effect.
BusinessopticsspectroscopyJames Webb Space Telescopeastronomyastrophotographyspacespace telescopeJWSTNASAESANorthrop GrummanRaytheoninfraredNIRMIRredshiftBig BangAmericasEuropeMIRINIRSpecNIRCamFGS/NIRSS

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