UW astronomer: NASA’s new telescope shows clearest images of other galaxies to date

Jul 17, 2022, 8:34 AM

Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI...

Credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) unveiled a handful of its first images taken by the James Webb Telescope (JWTS) on Monday, and for many scientists, it’s been an astronomical feat.

James Davenport, an astronomer at the University of Washington, told Gee and Ursula that the findings are just the beginning.

Noting that NASA’s release of the initial five photos taken from the James Webb telescope were merely test images, Davenport said, “knowing that they’re going to do even more with this telescope is really, really exciting.”

“JWTS is the first telescope that will be able to detect the composition of atmospheres of planets around other stars, which is an amazing feat, and it’s something that’s been 20 years in the making,” Davenport said.

Ross: Marveling at the beauty, and horror, of deep space with new telescope photos released

The once-in-a-generation kind of mission took two decades to plan but the astronomer said was necessary to learn more about the universe.

“It is a very expensive telescope, launching things in outer space is the most expensive way to do things, but it is the only way to do things if you want to get these incredibly precise images, especially in the infrared,” he said.

“It has been a monumental expense but also a huge triumph of engineering,” Davenport continued.

But for the mission that’s taken years to bring to life, he said he felt relief.

“You see all these little galaxies, and they’re all bent. There are little bits of light that are bent, they look like little arcs or little, like little French fries … this is the gravity from a huge clump of galaxies actually bending the light from distant faraway galaxies,” Davenport explained.

“To actually see it so clearly, such a beautiful example of it just so clearly where you can step back and see these little circular ring-like arcs, these little distortions, it’s really amazing. It’s probably one of the best examples of this kind of gravitational lensing I’ve ever seen.”

For those looking to go into sciences and STEM, he said there’s never been a better time to get into astronomy.

“One thing we know for sure is that if there is life in the universe, it is precious, and it is rare. Not every star is going to have people or life around it, so it reminds us to take care of the planet that we’re on and to take care of the life that we do have,” Davenport said.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Newsradio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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UW astronomer: NASA’s new telescope shows clearest images of other galaxies to date