Space expert Renske on the excitement around the James Webb Space Mission.



The world’s most powerful telescope reached its final destination this week on its journey to uncover the secrets of the birth of the Universe.

The James Webb Telescope is now one million miles from Earth after being launched on Christmas Day and will spend months studying the earliest rumbling of creation.

Dr Renske Smit, of the Astrophysics Research Institute at Liverpool John Moores University, is one of only a handful of UK scientists who will get the use the telescope.

Renske told BBC News: “What I’m excited to do with the James Webb is to look back in time 13.5 billion years and see how the first stars, first galaxies and first black holes were formed. So, looking at everything that we have today in the universe and how that all came to be.

'The moment it lights up'

"In terms of what we can see, we can already look back more than 13 billion years in time – we do that with the Hubble Telescope every day really in my work - but we still can’t see the first stars.

"That period was the beginning; after the Big Bang and the afterglow there was a period we call ‘The Dark Ages’. Imagine, there’s no starlight yet and it takes a long time for gravity to pull material together until there’s enough gravitational pull to bring about the first stars, and that takes a few hundred million years. Then comes the moment the Universe lights up and the first starlight emerges; that’s really what we want to see!

"To interpret what we’re looking at, there are multiple of instruments on board. These help us look at images, of thousands and thousands of galaxies at the same time – and we need to find that galaxy that we think is really far away. Other instruments on board will help us look in great detail at how the first atoms  - oxygen and carbon - were formed in that galaxy, so we’re discovering the first objects, if you like, in those galaxies.

“If we want to look back in time, we need to look in infrared, so we need to cool the telescope which is why is has a huge sun-shield to stop sun radiation interfering. This way we can get really sensitive images from these very faint, fuzzy galaxies very far away.

So why does she really do this work?

“It’s fundamental curiosity, that question of where do we come from. We weren’t always here, all the stars and planets and  galaxies weren’t always here, so how did that come to be. It’s such a fundamental thing of being human to wonder about that.

So far, the mission has been a spectacular success with a near perfect launch and a flawless unfolding of the sunshield and mirror. We could barely have dreamed of this just two months ago.

In a little over five months time, the first science images will start coming in from Webb. With a team of European researchers, I'm in a very privileged position to have access to data from the telescope in the first year of operations and we are hoping to discover some of the secrets of how the Universe first formed!



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