The launch of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is quickly approaching, and as you can probably imagine, astronomers are beyond excited to take it for a spin and see what they might find.
In addition to gazing at distant exoplanets to assess their potential habitability, researchers also plan to use the James Webb Space Telescope for studying the origins of water in our universe.
Image Credit: NASA
A recent announcement made by NASA discusses plans to use the upcoming space telescope to study molecular clouds in a nearby star-forming region called the Chameleon Complex. Dust particles situated there contain frozen life-supporting elements that clump together to form potentially-habitable exoplanets.
Among the things that astronomers will look for are ammonia, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, just to name a few. Fortunately, the James Webb Space Telescope offers a front-row seat to everything.
"If we can understand the chemical complexity of these ices in the molecular cloud, and how they evolve during the formation of a star and its planets, then we can assess whether the building blocks of life should exist in every star system," explained principal investigator Melissa McClure from the University of Amsterdam.
Given the circumstances, it’s no surprise that astronomers are interested in what’s occurring in these molecular clouds. Fortunately, the James Webb Space Telescope should have everything they need to discern the types of ices present within these regions. More importantly, it can do it with up to five times more precision than any space telescope before it.
“We plan to use a variety of Webb’s instrument modes and capabilities, not only to investigate this one region, but also to learn how best to study cosmic ices with Webb,” said Klaus Pontoppidan from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI).
Image Credit: NASA
After the James Webb Space Telescope collects its initial data, it could take some time for researchers to analyze everything. Then again, these efforts could potentially answer vital questions concerning our understanding of the universe we live in.
It should be interesting to see what scientists learn from these observations when they take place.