James Webb Space Telescope will study the origins of cosmic dust

Shane McGlaun - Nov 19, 2020, 7:29am CST
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James Webb Space Telescope will study the origins of cosmic dust

NASA is looking forward to the James Webb Space Telescope launching and already has plenty of science planned for the telescope. One of the mysteries that the telescope will help solve is why there appears to be more cosmic dust in galaxies than expected. Where exactly the cosmic dust comes from is a mystery.

Astronomers say learning the origins of cosmic dust is important because it is essential to the function of the universe by sheltering stars as they form, becoming part of planets, and can contain organic compounds that led to life as we know it. A major problem in astronomy is referred to as the “dust budget crisis.” It refers to a problem of astronomers being unable to account for all the dust in observed galaxies both nearby and in the distant universe.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be used to study dust-producing Wolf-Rayet binary stars. That type of star is very hot and very bright. There is evidence that Wolf-Rayet stars, through interaction with companion stars, produce large amounts of dust in a distinctive pinwheel pattern as the stars orbit each other and stellar winds collide.

Astronomers believe that binary-star systems may be responsible for a large portion of a galaxy’s dust budget. The challenges in studying this type of star system include the intense brightness and heat produced. NASA believes that the Webb telescope can solve that problem. Webb can detect mid-infrared light, precisely what astronomers want to look at to study dust and its chemical composition.

Observations in infrared light are important because infrared wavelengths are longer than visible light wavelengths allowing the infrared wavelengths to move between dust grains and reach the telescope. This allows the telescope to detect light and gives astronomers information. The new space telescope will target the WR140 binary system, which has been heavily studied in the past, and the WR137 binary system. NASA currently plans to launch the James Webb Space Telescope in 2021.


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