2022: A Year in Review for the James Webb Space Telescope
The James Webb Space Telescope has had a groundbreaking year in 2022, with numerous discoveries and milestones achieved. From its successful launch on December 25, 2021 to its first stunning images from deep space, the JWST has made a splash in the world of astronomy. In this article, we'll take a look back at the highlights of the JWST's journey in 2022, including its captivating self-portrait, the doubling of its lifespan, and its groundbreaking observations of exoplanets in search of signs of life. We will also review the best and most beautiful images takes by the telescope. As the most powerful space telescope in existence, the JWST has already proven itself to be an invaluable tool for understanding the mysteries of the universe.
1. Worldwide Anticipation Comes to a Head as James Webb Space Telescope Launches into the Cosmos
The James Webb Space Telescope was launched on December 25, 2021 after a long and complicated process that involved multiple organizations and manufacturers. It cost approximately $10 billion, which was significantly more than the original projection, and took around 20 years of political, scientific, and engineering work by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Northrop Grumman, and Ball Aerospace & Technologies to get the 6,161 kg (13,584 lb) telescope ready for launch. The launch took place at the Guiana Space Centre and was carried out using a 777,000 kg (1,713,000 lb), two-stage Ariane 5 rocket. The launch was delayed several times before it was finally successful. And what a spectacle it was. Almost like NASA’s Christmas present to the world.
2. Webb Captures Stunning Selfie as it Prepares to Explore the Universe
On February 11, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) made headlines with news that was similar to what we might hear about the Kardashians – it posted a selfie. The telescope used one of its infrared cameras to capture images of its own 18 gold-plated mirrors as they were being aligned. The resulting image showed the same star appearing 18 times. The alignment of the mirrors was a crucial step for the telescope's ability to study distant objects in the universe, such as planets and galaxies. The JWST was set to be one of the most powerful telescopes in the world and was expected to provide valuable insights into the mysteries of the cosmos.
3. Mirrors Fully Aligned and Ready for Deployment
On March 16, NASA announced that the James Webb Space Telescope team had successfully completed the "fine phasing" stage of aligning the observatory's mirrors. This ensured that all optical parameters were performing at or above expectations and that there were no critical issues or contamination in the telescope's optical path. The team had also fully aligned the telescope's primary imager, the Near-Infrared Camera, to the mirrors. This marked an important milestone in the telescope's journey towards becoming fully operational and achieving its science goals. Deployment was progressing according to plan.
4. Lifespan Doubles to 20 Years
On March 20, we were treated to a surprising and exciting bit of news about the projects lifetime. NASA announced that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) had enough fuel on board for a lifespan of approximately 20 years, twice the conservative pre-launch estimate of 10 years. The increase in lifespan was largely due to the successful performance of the European Ariane 5 rocket during the launch. Prior to its launch, the JWST was fueled with 240 liters of hydrazine fuel and dinitrogen tetroxide oxidizer, some of which was needed for course adjustments and some of which would be used at its final orbit around the L2 Lagrange point for station-keeping and to maintain its orbit.
5. First Stunning Images from Deep Space
Every fan of the telescope remembers July 12th, when the president released the first images of the JWST on on live television in an hour long press conference. This event gave us the first insight into the gravity of the discovery to lay ahead. These images and data represented the start of the telescope's general science operations and were selected by an international committee from the agencies involved. Released where 4 images and 1 spectroscopic analysis.
The Carina Nebula was captured in infrared light by the James Webb Space Telescope, revealing previously invisible areas of star birth in NGC 3324.
Stephan's Quintet was revealed in never-before-seen detail, including sparkling clusters of young stars and shock waves, providing new insights into early universe galaxy evolution.
Southern Ring Nebula
The first image of NGC 3132, known as the Southern Ring Nebula, was captured by the James Webb Space Telescope, revealing that it is cloaked in dust and helping astronomers understand planetary nebulae and refine their knowledge of these objects.
Webb's First Deep Field, the deepest and sharpest infrared image of the distant universe to date, showed thousands of previously unseen galaxies, including the faintest objects ever observed in the infrared. The image, of galaxy cluster SMACS 0723, covered a patch of sky approximately the size of a grain of sand held at arm's length and was the successor to Hubble's iconic deep field image.
The James Webb Space Telescope's first spectral analysis of an exoplanet detected water, clouds, and haze in the atmosphere of a gas giant planet orbiting a distant star, marking a significant advancement in the search for habitable planets beyond Earth.
6: Webb and Hubble collaborate to observe DART impact
In a generational handshake, the new kid on the block, the James Webb Space Telescope, and the old silverback, the Hubble Space Telescope, teamed up to observe and collect data before and after the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) intentionally collided with Dimorphos, an asteroid moonlet in the Didymos double-asteroid system, at nearly 15,000 mph. The experiment, which marked the first time that the two telescopes simultaneously observed the same celestial target, was conducted to test the technique of using a spacecraft to deflect an asteroid that poses no threat to Earth and modify its orbit. The coordinated observations allowed scientists to study the makeup and history of our solar system and gain knowledge about the surface of Dimorphos, the amount of material ejected by the collision, and its speed.
7: Stunning New View of Iconic 'Pillars of Creation'
On October 19, 2022, NASA's James Webb Space Telescope released a breathtaking image of the Pillars of Creation, a famous astronomical feature that was first captured in visible light by the Hubble Space Telescope in 1995 and again in 2014. This time, Webb captured the scene in near-infrared light, revealing newly formed stars in shades of pink, red, and crimson, and still-forming stars that appeared as molten lava. Located in front of the Milky Way galaxy, which blocks the view of galaxies behind it, the pillars were lit up by the light from the many stars in the scene. This was the first time an observatory had captured such detailed data in near-infrared light, and researchers were able to use it to update models of star formation with more precise star counts and dust quantities.
8: Jupiter Images: Using an infrared telescope without redshift
The James Webb Space Telescope captured stunning images of Jupiter using its infrared capabilities. Instead of detecting redshifted objects from the distant past, the telescope's infrared perception was used to observe the actual infrared emissions of objects much closer to home – specifically, Jupiter.
The telescope's image processors, led by citizen scientist Judy Schmidt and Ricardo Hueso of the University of the Basque Country in Spain, were able to map longer infrared wavelengths to the red end of the visible spectrum and shorter wavelengths toward the blue, allowing us to see Jupiter in a way that mimics how the human eye perceives visible light.
In addition to its imaging capabilities, the James Webb Space Telescope was also used to study the dynamics and chemistry of Jupiter, its rings, and its satellite system through its spectroscopic abilities. Overall, the telescope provided valuable insights into the scientific study of Jupiter and its system, including details of the planet's surface and its aurorae.
9: Hunting for life: Analysis of atmospheres of exoplanets in our neighbourhood
One of the most exciting capabilities of the young observatory is its ability to analyse the composition of exoplanets and thus hunt for signs of live throughout our stellar neighbourhood. In its first year of operation (which began summer 2022), it’s its set to observe some 70 exoplanets.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has made a strong start in its first year of observing exoplanets, with its first target being WASP-39b, a "hot Jupiter" located 700 light years from Earth. This gas giant is similar in composition to Saturn and orbits its host star in just four Earth days, making it incredibly hot at nearly 900 degrees Celsius. The JWST's observations of WASP-39b revealed patchy clouds and an intriguing chemical reaction in its atmosphere, as well as providing hints about its formation. The data gathered from this exoplanet was of very high quality and described as "exquisite in their detail" by the team.
One of the most highly anticipated systems for the JWST is the TRAPPIST-1 system, which includes seven Earth-sized planets orbiting a small red dwarf star. These planets, located just 39 light years from Earth, are all within or near the habitable zone, where liquid water could exist. Using transmission spectroscopy, the JWST has had its first look at the atmospheres of some of these planets and will continue to observe them in the coming months and years to gather more data on their potential habitability. The TRAPPIST-1 system is considered the best known laboratory for studying the potential for life on other planets.
10: Mission accomplished: Record set for highest redshift and the earliest galaxy ever observed
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) proved its capability to fulfil its original mission goal of looking back into the earliest periods of our universe’s history. And by doing so, has made a significant discovery in its search for the earliest formed galaxies in the universe.
Using the technique of Lyman break to identify high-redshift galaxies, the JWST Advanced Deep Extragalactic Survey (JADES) team was able to confirm four galaxies beyond the previous record of redshift z=10, with the highest redshift being 13.20 for the galaxy JADES-GS-z13-0. This means that the light from this galaxy was emitted just 400 million years after the Big Bang. The team used the NIRCam instrument on JWST to capture images of the GOODS-South field and then used NIRSpec spectroscopy to confirm the presence of the Lyman break, indicating a high-redshift galaxy. This discovery demonstrates the unprecedented capabilities of the JWST in observing distant objects in the universe.
All images Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI