Halifax astronomers developing software to analyze data from first galaxies

Click to play video: 'Nova Scotia astronomy team’s contribution to groundbreaking telescope project'
Nova Scotia astronomy team’s contribution to groundbreaking telescope project
WATCH: One month has passed since the Christmas Day launch of a groundbreaking telescope that’s on track to capture more than 10 billion years’ worth of cosmic history. A team of professional astronomers in Halifax has been eagerly following the James Webb Space Telescope’s journey to its home port – 1.5 million kilometres from earth. Alexa MacLean has more – Jan 25, 2022

A team of Halifax astronomers is celebrating the arrival of the Webb telescope at its home destination more than 1.5 million kilometers from earth.

“Now that it’s at L2, we are delighted that it’s there and looking forward to finally being able to use it in a few months,” Marcin Sawicki said, an astronomy professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.

The James Webb Space Telescope was launched on Christmas Day and has spent the past month traveling toward its home base of Lagrange Point 2 where it will orbit around the sun, staying in line with the earth as it does so.

Read more: ‘Exceptional day’: Canadian scientists rejoice successful launch of space telescope

Sawicki said Webb’s journey to L2 has been so efficient that leftover fuel can be used to extend its time in space.

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“The original plan was a minimum of five years, a target of 10 years, and we now know that it’s probably going to operate longer than that,” he said.

Sawicki is part of a Canada-wide astronomy team that is now preparing to receive the first images from Webb sometime this summer.

“We are developing software tools that will allow us to take the raw data, and turn (it) into data that we can analyze scientifically, that we can interpret,” he said.

Read more: Halifax researcher part of team behind black hole discovery that proves Einstein right

Sawicki said the telescope records photons that will result in physical information that astronomers like him are tasked with extracting for scientific use.

“That will tell us things like how far a galaxy is, how old it is, how many stars it contains, how quickly it’s making new stars,” he said.

“These are all very, very important things if we are to first identify these baby galaxies in the distant universe, and then also see how they’re building up their bodies, their mass, over time.”

The Webb telescope is compromised of several mirrors that are now in the process of being aligned one nanometer at a time.

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Click to play video: 'NASA expects first images from James Webb Space Telescope the summer'
NASA expects first images from James Webb Space Telescope the summer

The mirrors are part of the telescope’s infrared capabilities that are groundbreaking when it comes to being able to detect objects that can’t be seen in visible light.

“Because the light has traveled through the expanding universe it has changed colour and shifted into the infrared and that’s why Webb is going to be such a powerful machine for studying these objects,” he said.

Sawicki concludes that the multi-billion dollar telescope is invaluable when you consider the information it will be able to collect that’s interconnected with all humanity.

“We would not exist without the very first generation of stars that formed after the Big Bang,” he said.

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