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Astronomers eagerly await first images from the James Webb Space Telescope – CBS News



After six months of tests and checkout, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is finally ready to open a new window on the universe, capturing the faint light of the first stars and galaxies, probing the mysteries of black holes and studying the atmospheres of alien worlds.

On Tuesday, NASA will unveil the first color images from the $10 billion observatory, photos expected to rival or surpass the first spectacular images from the repaired Hubble Space Telescope nearly three decades ago.

“We’re going to give humanity a new view of the cosmos, and it’s a view that we’ve never seen before,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters in a preview briefing. “One of those images … is the deepest image of our universe that has ever been taken. And we’re only beginning to understand what Webb can and will do.”

An artist’s impression of the James Webb Space Telescope.


Hubble went on to become one of the most iconic instruments in astronomical history, helping astronomers pin down the age of the universe, confirming the presence of supermassive black holes, capturing the deepest views of the cosmos ever collected and providing fly-by class images of planets in Earth’s solar system.

But Webb, operating at just a few degrees above absolute zero behind a tennis-court size sunshade, promises to push the boundaries of human knowledge even deeper with a 21.3-foot-wide segmented primary mirror capable of detecting the faint, stretched-out infrared light from the first generation of stars to light up after the Big Bang.

Launched on Christmas Day, Webb is stationed in a gravitationally stable orbit nearly one million miles from Earth. For the past six months, engineers and scientists have been working through a complex series of deployments, activations and checkouts, fine tuning the telescope’s focus and optimizing the performance of its four science instruments.

The images released Tuesday, selected by an international team of astronomers, will “demonstrate to the world that Webb is, in fact, ready for science, and that it produces excellent and spectacular results,” said Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb project scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute.

“And it’s also to highlight the breadth, the sheer breadth of science that can be done with Webb and to highlight all of the four science instruments,” he added. “And last but not least, to celebrate the beginning of normal science operations.”

The targets for Webb’s first public images include:

  • The Carina Nebula: A vast star-forming region in the constellation Carina some 7,600 light years from Earth that’s four times as large as the Orion Nebula. The Carina Nebula is the home of the most luminous known star in the Milky Way as well as the Eta Carinae binary system, which includes a massive sun expected to explode in a supernova blast in the near future (astronomically speaking).
The Carina Nebula, a vast stellar nursery featuring massive young stars in multiple clusters and the debris of supernova blasts, as seen by the Hubble Space Telescope. Webb’s infrared view is expected to peer into the dusty clouds to reveal infant suns in the process of being born.

Maicon Germiniani

  • Southern Ring Nebula: An expanding cloud of gas a half light year across that was ejected from a dying star. Relatively low-mass stars like Earth’s sun will end their lives by blowing off their outer layers, forming so-called “planetary nebulas” while their cores shrink and slowly cool.
  • Stephen’s Quintet: A collection of five galaxies in the constellation Pegasus 290 million light years from Earth that was discovered in 1877, the first such compact grouping of galaxies to be detected. Four of the five galaxies are gravitationally interacting in a slow-motion merger.
A Hubble image of Stephen’s Quintet, a group of five large galaxies in the constellation Pegasus. Four of the galaxies are gravitationally interacting while the fifth, at lower left, is not involved.

NASA, ESA, Hubble Legacy Archive

  • WASP-96b: An unusual cloudless exoplanet 1,150 light years away that’s about half the size of Jupiter, orbiting its sun every 3.4 days. By spectroscopically analyzing light from the parent star as it passes through the exoplanet’s atmosphere on the way to Earth, astronomers can tease out details about its chemical composition.
  • SMACS J0723.3-7327: The combined gravity of countless stars in huge galaxy clusters like this one can as a powerful lens if the alignment is just right, magnifying the light from more distant objects in the far background to provide a deeper look back across space and time than would otherwise be possible.

“The first images will include observations that span the range of Webb science themes,” said Pontoppidan. “From the early universe, the deepest infrared view of the cosmos to date. We will also see an example of how galaxies interact and grow, and how these cataclysmic collisions between galaxies drive the process of star formation.

“We’ll see a couple of examples from the life cycle of stars, starting from the birth of stars, where Webb can reveal new, young stars emerging from their natal cloud of gas and dust, to the death of stars, like a dying star seeding the galaxy with new elements and new dust that may one day become part of new planetary systems.”

Last but not least, he said, the team will show off the first chemical fingerprints from the atmosphere of an exoplanet.

One of the Hubble Space Telescope’s most astonishing images was its initial “deep field” look at a tiny patch of seemingly empty sky over a 10-day period in 1995. To the amazement of professionals and the public alike, that long-exposure image revealed more than 3,000 galaxies of every shape, size and age, some of them the oldest, most distant ever seen.

The original Hubble Deep Field revealed more than 3,000 galaxies in a small, seemingly empty region of space. The James Webb Space Telescope is expected to push well beyond Hubble in search of the first stars and galaxies to form after the Big Bang 13.8 billion years ago.


Subsequent Hubble deep fields pushed even farther back in time, detecting the faint light of galaxies that were shining within about 500 million years of the Big Bang. How stars formed and got organized so quickly into galactic structures is still a mystery, as is the development of the supermassive black holes at their cores.

Webb’s four instruments are expected to push the boundaries still closer to the beginning of galaxy formation. A test image from the telescope’s Canadian-built Fine Guidance Sensor, an image that wasn’t optimized for the detection of extremely faint objects, nonetheless revealed thousands of galaxies.

Webb’s look at SMACS 0723 is expected to demonstrate the enormous reach of the observatory.

“This is really only the beginning, we’re only scratching the surface,” Pontoppidan said. “We have in the first images, a few days worth of observations. Looking forward, we have many years of observation, so we can only imagine what that will be.”

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University of Calgary study examines if Mars could have once supported life –



Was there ever life on Mars?

Using data from the Curiosity rover, a University of Calgary (UofC) scientist is studying Mars’ geology “for signs the planet could have once supported life.”

It’s part of the NASA-led Mars Science Laboratory mission to examine the rocks on the surface of Mars, as they could offer evidence of life on the Red Planet.

“Our goal is to place constraints on whether Mars was habitable,” Tutolo said. “And if Mars was habitable, then we can think about whether it actually did evolve life.”

The study will be using data collected by Curiosity as it was slowly climbing Mount Sharp 10 years ago to finally land in the centre of the Gale crater.

The rover has analyzed the chemistry and minerology of 1,211 samples of rocks and soil surfaces and sent 2,659 results back to Earth.

Tutolo and his team will do experiments in the laboratory to better understand and interpret the results. They will also conduct field research in British Colombia and run numerical models on a computer.

Study focuses on geological transition of rocks

The team will focus on examining the geological transition of rocks from the oldest layers of sediments to the younger layers “deposited in the crater and which formed Mount Sharp around 3½ billion years” ago.

Tutolo’s study suggests the oldest rocks in the crater are from a lake that is river-fed – “fluviolacustrine environment” –while the younger sediments contain extremely soluble salts – magnesium sulphate salts – such as Epsom salt that can be used for bathing. As these salts are extremely soluble, precipitating them requires all the water to be evaporated.

“We think that it must have been drier on Mars in order to precipitate those minerals. What we’re exploring is how that transition is recorded in the rocks,” Tutolo said.

The research is also taking advantage of the “rare-on-Earth” Basque Lakes near Cache Creek, B.C., that contain magnesium sulphate where the same sulphate minerals found on Mount Sharp on Mars are actively precipitating.

Tutolo is trying to answer this question: “Is there a point where it gets so salty that nothing could live there?”

Since Mars is red as a result of all the iron on its surface where its atmosphere doesn’t have similar levels of oxygen to Earth’s atmosphere, the team is using special tools in the lab to examine sensitive substances in the absence of oxygen, such as an anaerobic chamber that simulates conditions on Mars.

Mars’ geology helps understand Earth’s evolution

Understanding the geological transition on Mars will provide information on whether the planet’s environment would still be habitable in drier and colder environments and whether there’s a potential that life evolved and existed on Mars’ surface at that time. If life did evolve, what evidence can we get from the rocks?

“There was probably a period of time when Mars was getting warm and having water again, and going back and forth (from warmer to colder),” said Tutolo.

He explained that the Earth has experienced ice ages and greenhouse climates as a result of the slight variations in its movement through space, whereas Mars’ movement changes a bit more dramatically, making those cycles more enhanced.

Tutolo also adds that the geological history of early Mars helps understand the history of early Earth as there’s limited access to its geological record from that time.

The limited access to early Earth’s geology is attributed to “plate tectonics whereby, over the eons, the surface gets subsumed into the planet’s mantle as continent-sized slabs of rock collide.”

“But on Mars, all of those rocks have been there since they were deposited, some 3½ billion years or more ago,” Tutolo said. “So we can see those rocks on Mars and understand how life evolved on our planet, going from totally abiotic, or without life at all, to what it is today.”

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Blaxtair Inc. embedded pedestrian detection system – Canadian Occupational Safety



Blaxtair is an embedded pedestrian detection system for industrial vehicles, designed to prevent collisions between vehicles and pedestrians in co-activity zones. It has a smart 3D camera able to distinguish a person from other obstacles in real time and alerts operators in case of danger, without unnecessary alarms.

Blaxtair can be equipped to any industrial vehicle, including but not limited to forklifts and wheel loaders, and is perfect for sites within any industry where co-activity between pedestrians and vehicles poses a safety threat (logistics, warehousing, recycling, mining, construction, etc.)

Blaxtair is made up of 3 main parts:

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Starburst galaxy shines in new 'whirlpool of gold' photo –



The ESO’s Very Large Telescope captured this view of the starburst galaxy NGC 4303, with gas clouds of ionized oxygen, hydrogen and sulfur shown in blue, green and red, respectively.  (Image credit: ESO/PHANGS)

A mesmerizing new photo captures bright, golden swirling clouds of gas that generate an exceptionally high rate of star formation. 

This stellar nursery, a spiral galaxy known as NGC 4303 or Messier 61, is located 50 million light-years from Earth in the constellation Virgo. NGC 4303 is one of the largest galactic members of the Virgo Cluster — a large, nearby grouping of galaxies.

NGC 4303 is considered a starburst galaxy, where an unusually high amount of stars are born. In turn, studying this type of galaxy helps astronomers to better understand star formation across the universe, according to a statement from the European Southern Observatory (ESO).

Related: Amazing space views from ESO’s Very Large Telescope (photos)

“Stars form when clouds of cold gas collapse,” ESO officials wrote in the statement. “The energetic radiation from newly born stars will heat and ionize the surrounding remaining gas.” 

The photo, taken using the ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile, shows bright swirling clouds of the ionized gas, appearing as a “whirlpool of gold.” The swirling clouds are like cosmic breadcrumbs, tracing the path of new stars being born, according to the statement.  

Related stories:

Astronomers using the Multi-Unit Spectroscopic Explorer (MUSE) instrument on the VLT observed NGC 4303 at different wavelengths of light to create this “jewel-like” image. Combining their observations revealed a glowing golden whirlpool, speckled with gas clouds of ionized oxygen, hydrogen and sulfur shown in blue, green and red, respectively. 

The recent observations were collected as part of a project called the Physics at High Angular resolution in Nearby Galaxies (PHANGS), which aims to uncover nearby galaxies across all wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum, according to the statement. 

Follow Samantha Mathewson @Sam_Ashley13. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. 

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