The Canadian NIRISS Unbiased Cluster Survey (CANUCS) team discovered the most distant globular clusters ever found using the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). These dense groups of millions of stars may be relics that contain the first and oldest stars in the universe.
This discovery in Webb’s First Deep Field already provides a detailed look at the earliest phase of star formation, confirming the incredible power of JWST.
The nine billion light-year-away “Sparkler galaxy” was the focus of the exquisitely detailed Webb’s First Deep Field image, said the astronomers. The researchers called these compact objects around this galaxy “sparkles,” which appeared as small yellow dots.
According to the research team, these sparkles might either be new clusters of stars actively developing that were formed three billion years after the Big Bang at the height of star formation or old globular clusters. Globular clusters are old collections of stars from the beginning of a galaxy, providing information about the early stages of its development and expansion.
From their initial analysis of 12 of these compact objects, the researchers determined that five of them are not only globular clusters but among the oldest ones known.
Kartheik G. Iyer, Dunlap Fellow at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto and co-lead author of the study, said, “Looking at the first images from JWST and discovering old globular clusters around distant galaxies was an incredible moment, one that wasn’t possible with previous Hubble Space Telescope imaging.”
“Since we could observe the sparkles across a range of wavelengths, we could model them and better understand their physical properties, like how old they are and how many stars they contain. We hope the knowledge that globular clusters can be observed from such great distances with JWST will spur further science and searches for similar objects.”
Lamiya Mowla, Dunlap Fellow at the Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto and co-lead author of the study, said, “These newly identified clusters were formed close to the first time it was even possible to create stars. Because the Sparkler galaxy is much farther away than our own Milky Way, it is easier to determine the ages of its globular clusters.
“We are observing the Sparkler as it was nine billion years ago, when the universe was only four-and-a-half billion years old, looking at something that happened a long time ago. Think of it as guessing a person’s age based on their appearance—it’s easy to tell the difference between a 5- and 10-year-old, but hard to tell the difference between a 50- and 55-year-old.”
The Sparkler galaxy is special because it is magnified by a factor of 100 due to an effect called gravitational lensing—where the SMACS 0723 galaxy cluster in the foreground distorts what is behind it like a giant magnifying glass. Moreover, gravitational lensing produces three separate images of the Sparkler, allowing astronomers to study the galaxy in greater detail.
CANUCS team lead Chris Willott from the National Research Council’s Herzberg Astronomy, and Astrophysics Research Centre said, “Our study of the Sparkler highlights the tremendous power in combining the unique capabilities of JWST with the natural magnification afforded by gravitational lensing. The team is excited about more discoveries when JWST turns its eye on the CANUCS galaxy clusters next month.”
The researchers combined new data from JWST’s Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) with HST archival data. NIRCam detects faint objects using longer and redder wavelengths to observe past what is visible to the human eye and even HST. Both magnifications due to the lensing by the galaxy cluster and the high resolution of JWST made observing compact objects possible.
The Canadian-made Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) instrument on the JWST confirmed that the objects are old globular clusters because the researchers did not observe oxygen emission lines—emissions with measurable spectra given off by young clusters that are actively forming stars. NIRISS also helped unravel the geometry of the triply lensed images of the Sparkler.
Marcin Sawicki, Canada Research Chair in Astronomy, professor at Saint Mary’s University, and study co-author, said, “JWST’s made-in-Canada NIRISS instrument was vital in helping us understand how the three images of the Sparkler and its globular clusters are connected. Seeing several of the Sparkler’s globular clusters imaged three times made it clear that they are orbiting around the Sparkler galaxy rather than being simply in front of it by chance.”
- The Sparkler: Evolved high-redshift globular cluster candidates captured by JWST. The Astrophysical Journal Letters (2022). DOI: 10.3847/2041-8213/ac90ca
Mars at Opposition 2022: The Full Moon Occults Mars Wednesday Night – Universe Today
A rare event transpires Wednesday night, as the Full Moon occults Mars near opposition.
Have you checked out Mars lately? The Red Planet currently rides high to the east at dusk, rising as the Sun sets. We call this opposition season, the biannual span when Mars passes closest to the Earth and offers observers optimal views of the planet. Mars opposition 2022 is special however, as three events converge in one night: Mars at opposition, the Moon reaches Full, and the Moon occults (passes in front of) Mars, all on the evening/morning of Wednesday/Thursday, December 7th/8th.
Celestial Dates with Destiny
You can see how the action around Mars stacks up in the first week of December:
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1st- Mars passes nearest Earth (2:00 Universal Time/UT)
8th-Full Moon (4:00 UT)
8th-Mars Lunar Occultation (4:00 UT)
8th-Mars at Opposition (5:00 UT)
Note that Mars is closest to the Earth a week prior to opposition. This occurs for two reasons: while the Earth is moving towards perihelion in January (that is, we’re moving towards the Sun in December, but away from Mars), the Red Planet is doing the opposite, headed towards aphelion on May 30, 2023, just under six months after this week’s opposition. This makes up for the 900,000-odd kilometer difference as Mars is 0.55 Astronomical Units (AU, or 81.5 million kilometers) from Earth on the 1st, but sits 82.4 million kilometers from Earth at opposition.
In fact, we’re currently trending towards a cycle of unfavorable oppositions for Mars now, which will bottom out in February 2027 when Mars only reaches an apparent diameter of 13.8” as seen from the Earth. After 2027, Mars oppositions will slowly start to become more favorable again.
No Missions to Mars
Unfortunately, this Mars launch window also marks a sad milestone: for the first time since 2009, no mission will catch the biannual pre-opposition window to head to Mars. The European Space Agency’s ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover was set to make the trip until Russia invaded Ukraine early this year, forcing ESA to look for another launch carrier and lander. ESA still hopes to get the rover to Mars by 2030.
‘Standing in the Shadow’ as the Moon occults Mars
But it’s Wednesday night’s occultation of Mars by the Full Moon that makes the 2022 opposition special. Opposition and the occultation plus the Full Moon all occur within an hour of each other. This is pretty rare: the near-Full Moon hasn’t occulted a naked eye planet or bright star since July 2019 (Saturn) and won’t do so again until May 24, 2024 (Antares), This is also the last of two occultations of Mars by the Moon for 2022, The Moon will occult Mars five times in 2023, though none are as favorable as the December’s event. The December ‘Long Night’s Moon’ nearest to the southward equinox also rides high in the sky for northern hemisphere observers, another plus.
This is also the closest Mars opposition versus a Full Moon with a lunar occultation for the 21st century. 21st century occultations of Mars near (less than 24 hours) from Full Moon also occur on December 24, 2007, January 14, 2025, February 5, 2042, May 28, 2048, February 27, 2059, and finally on April 27th 2078, which also features a shallow penumbral lunar eclipse.
The lunar occultation ‘footprint’ for Wednesday night’s occultation spans most of North America and Europe, with only the southeast U.S. missing out. Mars is 17” across during the event, shining at magnitude -1.9. The Moon will take just over half a minute to cover Mars during the occultation.
When to Watch
Here’s a table for select North American and European cities in the path of the occultation, with ingress/egress times. You can see an extensive list of sites and times here.
|Detroit||3:20UT/10:20PM EST||4:09UT/11:09PM EST|
|Dallas||2:54UT/8:54PM CST||3:28UT/9:28PM CST|
|Los Angeles||2:30UT/6:30PM PST||3:30UT/7:30PM PST|
|Seattle||2:51UT/6:51PM PST||3:50UT/7:50PM PST|
|London||5:00UT/5:00AM BST||6:00UT/6:00 AM BST|
|Helsinki||4:55UT/6:55AM EET||5:39UT/7:39 AM EET|
Mars will be bright enough to follow riiiiiight up to the limb of the Full Moon during the event. The occultation occurs in the early morning hours for Europe on Thursday December 8th, and late in the evening of December 7th for North America. The disappearance of Mars behind the Moon will be visible even to the unaided eye, though binoculars or a small telescope will definitely help you enjoy the view.
Looking back from Mars, you’d be treated to an even stranger view, as the Moon transits the slim crescent Earth, just scant degrees from the Sun.
The Moon occults Mars: Weather Prospects, Watching Live
As of writing this, weather prospects for the contiguous United States (CONUS) look to favor the central northern states and the U.S. southwest.
Clouded out or simply live outside of the occultation footprint? Astronomer Gianluca Masi has you covered, with a live webcast as the Moon occults Mars, starting at 4:00 UT/11:00 PM EST Wednesday night.
The Moon Occults Mars: Spotting a ‘Daytime’ Red Planet
Finally… ever seen Mars in the daytime? It’s certainly possible near opposition… and the nearby Full Moon offers an excellent guide to complete this unusual feat of visual athletics. In North America, I’d start looking for Mars near the Moon just before local sunset, while in Europe, your best bet is to follow Mars near the Moon low to the West, after local sunrise.
Good luck, clear skies, and don’t miss this week’s unique, triple play dance of the Moon and Mars.
Webb telescope promises new age of the stars – RFI English
Issued on: 07/12/2022 – 07:06Modified: 07/12/2022 – 07:05
Paris (AFP) – The James Webb Space Telescope lit up 2022 with dazzling images of the early universe after the Big Bang, heralding a new era of astronomy and untold revelations about the cosmos in years to come.
The most powerful observatory sent into space succeeds the Hubble telescope, which is still operating, and began transmitting its first cosmic images in July.
“It essentially behaves better than expected in almost every area,” said Massimo Stiavelli, head of the Webb mission office at the Space Telescope Science Institute, in Baltimore.
Already scientists say the Webb telescope, now orbiting the sun at a million miles (1.6 million kilometres) from Earth, should last 20 years, twice its guaranteed lifetime.
“The instruments are more efficient, the optics are sharper and more stable. We have more fuel and we use less fuel,” said Stiavelli.
Stability is vital for the clarity of the images.
“Our requirement was similar to that of Hubble, in terms of pointing accuracy. And we ended up being seven times better,” the mission office chief added.
Public appetite for the discoveries has been fed by the colouring of the telescope’s images.
Light from the most distant galaxies has been stretched from the visible spectrum, viewable by the naked eye, to infrared — which Webb is equipped to observe with unprecedented resolution.
This enables the telescope to detect the faintest glimmers from the distant universe at an unprecedented resolution, to see through the veil of dust that masks the emergence of stars in a nebula and to analyse the atmosphere of exoplanets, which orbit stars outside our solar system.
“The first year (of observation) is a way to test out the tool for the small rocky planets in the habitable zone that could potentially be like Earth,” said Lisa Kaltenegger, associate professor in Astronomy at Cornell University.
“And the tests are beautiful. They’re spectacular.”
Webb blasted off aboard an Ariane 5 rocket at the end of 2021 crowning a 30-year project at the US space agency NASA.
It took 10,000 people and 10 billion dollars to put the 6.2-tonne observatory into space.
En route to final orbit, Webb deployed a five-layer sunshield the size of a tennis court followed by a 6.5 metre primary mirror made up of 18 hexagonal, gold-coated segments or petals.
Once calibrated to less than a millionth of a metre, the 18 petals began to collect the light pulsing stars.
Last July 12, the first images underlined Webb’s capabilities unveiling thousands of galaxies, some dating back close to the birth of the Universe, and a star nursery in the Carina nebula.
Jupiter has been captured in incredible detail which is expected to help understand the workings of the giant gas planet.
‘Too many’ galaxies
The blue, orange and grey tones of the images from the “Pillars of Creation”, giant dust columns where stars are born, proved captivating.
Scientists saw the revelations as a way of rethinking their models of star formation.
Researchers using the new observatory have found the furthest galaxies ever observed, one of which existed just 350 millions years after the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago.
The galaxies appear with extreme luminosity and may have started forming 100 million years earlier than theories predicted.
“In the distant Universe, we have an excess of galaxies compared to models,” David Elbaz, scientific director for astrophysics at France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, told AFP.
Another surprise has been that where Hubble essentially observed irregular shaped galaxies, the precision of the Webb telescope produces magnificent spiral galaxies similar to our own.
This has led to musings over a potential universal model which could be one of the keys to star formation.
Webb also opened up a profusion of clusters of millions of stars leading, which could be the potential missing link between the first stars and the first galaxies.
In the field of exoplanets, Webb honed in on a faraway gas giant called WASP-96 b, which was discovered in 2014.
Nearly 1,150 light-years from Earth, WASP-96 b is about half the mass of Jupiter and zips around its star in just 3.4 days
Webb provided the first confirmation that carbon dioxide is present in the atmosphere of Wasp 39-b.
But for Stiavelli, “Some of the big things either haven’t been observed yet, or haven’t been revealed yet.”
© 2022 AFP
NASA Artemis I – Flight Day 21: Orion Spacecraft Leaves Lunar Sphere of Influence, Heads for Home – SciTechDaily
On Flight Day 21 of the Artemis I mission, Orion exited the lunar sphere of gravitational influence. It occurred at 1:29 a.m. CST on Tuesday, December 6, marked the last time this will happen on the Artemis I mission. This was less than a day after completing the return powered flyby burn that put the spacecraft on course for splashdown Sunday, December 11. Earth’s force of gravity is now the primary gravitational force acting on the spacecraft.
Orion successfully performed the fourth return trajectory correction burn at 4:43 a.m. using the reaction control system thrusters. The burn lasted 5.7 seconds and changed the velocity of the spacecraft by 0.6 feet per second.
Flight controllers used Orion’s cameras to inspect the crew module thermal protection system and European Service Module, the second of three planned external spacecraft inspections. Teams conducted this survey early in the mission to provide detailed images of the spacecraft’s external surfaces after it had flown through the portion of Earth’s orbit containing the majority of space debris, and teams reported no concerns after reviewing the imagery. This second inspection during the return phase is being used to assess the overall condition of the spacecraft several days before re-entry.
During both inspections, the Integrated Communications Officer, or INCO, commanded cameras on the four solar array wings to take a series of still images. Engineers and flight controllers at <span class="glossaryLink" aria-describedby="tt" data-cmtooltip="
” data-gt-translate-attributes=”["attribute":"data-cmtooltip", "format":"html"]”>NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will review the imagery over the coming days. A final photographic survey will be conducted Friday as Orion continues its journey home.
Teams responsible for recovering Orion after its splashdown are continuing preparations ahead of the December 11 splashdown off the coast of California. The mission management team will determine the landing site location Thursday, December 8. Listen to NASA’s Artemis I recovery director, Melissa Jones, talk about what it takes to fetch the Orion spacecraft from the Pacific Ocean at the end of the mission on “Houston We Have a Podcast.”
Just after 5:30 p.m. on December 6, Orion was traveling 244,000 miles (393,000 km) from Earth and about 79,000 miles (127,000 lkm) from the Moon, cruising at 500 miles per hour (800 km per hour).
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