SPACE — The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launched in December 2021 has amazed scientists sending its first science data in July 2022. The telescope has spotted the galaxies of the early universe.
Last week, May 10, 2023, the telescope manager announced a research proposal that was translucent using the most advanced telescope. In total, astronomers submitted about 1,600 proposals to the telescope operator, STScI, to carry out observations.
Of the many proposals, only 249 were selected. This means that almost 1 in 7 proposals are accepted.
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What proposals were received?
Scientist Mary Anne Limbach of Texas A&M University who successfully passed three proposals. Limbach’s proposal focused on white dwarfs, the remaining Earth-sized core left behind after a sun-like star swells into a red giant and expels its outer layers.
After this dramatic event, it is thought that the “corpse” of this star can still contain intact planets. This research could potentially offer scientists an opportunity to learn more about the likely fate of Earth in five billion years when the sun enters its red giant phase.
In addition, Limbach will try to confirm the two suspected white dwarf worlds. However, he will also search up to half a dozen more elsewhere in the sky.
“JWST can see if one of these nearby white dwarfs looks brighter than it should. If so, that could be an indicator that a planet is there. JWST is really the only observatory capable of confirming it,” he said ScientificAmerican.
The first year of the James Webb telescope
In the first year of JWST telescope science work or Cycle 1 JWST had about 1,200 proposals. Research is predominantly hunting for the earliest known galaxies in the universe, which formed just a few hundred million years after the big bang.
The same goes for Cycle 2. Galaxies and exoplanets get the most portion of telescope time.
For example, the proposal received from Daniel Eisenstein from Harvard University. He hopes to push JWST to its limits by hunting for galaxies perhaps up to 200 million years after the Big Bang.
Rohan Naidu of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology will also explore the distant universe. He will use a giant galaxy cluster called Abell 2744 to gravitationally magnify the light from several smaller objects up to 750 million years after the big bang. The goal is to search for clumps of primordial gas, which may contain the first generation of stars thought to light up the universe.
The main target of interest for JWST Cycle 1 is the TRAPPIST-1 system, seven Earth-sized worlds around a red dwarf star about 40 light years from Earth. Three TRAPPIST-1 programs were selected in Cycle 1, however, only one was selected in Cycle 2 this time.
The research was led by Michaël Gillon of the University of Liège in Belgium. He will be hunting for the atmosphere on TRAPPIST-1b and c, the two innermost planets of the system. Preliminary studies of TRAPPIST-1b show that the planet has no atmosphere.
“If we can show that one of these two planets has an atmosphere, we will be in a very good position to commission an ambitious program at JWST to explore other planets,” he said.
Christopher Glein of the Southwest Research Institute (SWRI) in Texas will use JWST to investigate Saturn’s moon Enceladus, which may harbor a habitable ocean beneath its icy surface. Observations from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which orbited Saturn from 2004 to 2017, show that the moon occasionally ejects water from this ocean through a plume on its south pole.
While there are currently no spacecraft orbiting Saturn, JWST is the next best instrument. JWST is expected to “look for evidence of ocean chemistry” on the surface of Enceladus.
The telescope would be sensitive to certain substances, such as ammonia and various organic molecules, which could tell scientists about the habitability of the moon’s hidden oceans. In 2040 Enceladus’ south pole will enter a long winter of darkness that will last until 2055, making potential landings there to hunt for life difficult.
“JWST can act as a bridge between the Cassini era and the lander on Enceladus,” he said.
Not all areas of research can be approved. David Kipping of Columbia University put forward two proposals to use JWST to hunt for moons orbiting exoplanets, known as exomoons. But both proposals were rejected.
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