Canadian manufactured technology contributed to Webb space telescope images
The Webb telescope is equipped with two crucial Canadian-built systems that are key to its success.
NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, outfitted with two Canadian-built systems that help capture images, is already astounding the scientists who worked for years to get the instrument operational.
The United States space agency released four new stunning images taken by the telescope, including of a cloud of gas surrounding a dying star and of the edge of a young star-forming region about 7,600 light-years away. A day earlier, the White House released the first image taken by the telescope: a deep-field photo of galaxies more than 13 billion years old.
“I’m a scientist and I’ve been working on this project several times in the past six months, and I’ve nearly broken my jaw with what I saw — these incredible images,” said Rene Doyon, a physics professor at Universite de Montreal and the person in charge of the Canadian-made tools on the telescope.
“I think our fellow scientists will feel the same thing when they look at the data. These data are just amazing. I think it’s fair to say today we’re turning the page — I know its cliche but it’s true — on several new chapters on exoplanet atmosphere, the early universe, star formation, and we don’t know what we’re going to find; it’s exciting.”
The five images released by NASA are the first since the telescope — a US$10-billion joint partnership with the Canadian and European space agencies — was launched in late December 2021.
The Webb telescope is equipped with two crucial Canadian-built systems that are key to its success. They include a Fine Guidance Sensor, which helps aim the telescope, and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph, which helps analyze light. Both Canadian instruments are working properly.
The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, the Webb is deployed much farther out — about 1.6 million kilometres from Earth. The orbiting infrared observatory is 100 times more powerful than its predecessor launched in 1990.
Nathalie Ouellette, an astrophysicist and Webb outreach scientist in Canada, says Hubble focused on visible light while Webb uses infrared light, allowing scientists to “pierce through cosmic dust and gas and look at different types of objects.”
Neil Rowlands, engineering fellow at Honeywell Aerospace, was involved in the development of both Canadian-made instruments. He was present at Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland when the Canadian contributions were first turned on.
“It worked out of the box; I guess it’s a testament to all the rehearsals and testing done on the ground,” Rowlands said.
Next, scientific operations will begin with scientists all over the world getting a chance to use Webb. The schedule for the first year is already booked and will include 14-Canadian led projects and 72 others with Canadian co-leads.
“We’ve got years and years to go of great scientific discoveries,” Ouellette said.