Among the privileged few to use the James Webb Telescope are two scholars from India

Only the unflinching beauty of the cosmos can equal our unrelenting search for the universe’s mysteries. And now that the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is operating and giving us regular, breathtaking glimpses into the past of the universe (which will likely inspire missions in the future), we inch or should we say, float closer to learning the secrets of the cosmos.

We have had the good fortune to view some of the finest and deepest infrared photos of the early universe ever captured thanks to NASA’s lavish provision of images from the $10 billion next-generation telescope. As a result, it is easy to understand why scientists from all over the world would be clamouring for a chance to use the Webb’s extraordinary levels of measurement sensitivity.

In light of the organised galactic jumble that contains clusters of interacting galaxies, dazzling beckoning stars, magnificent nebulae, and massive exoplanets, let’s take a closer look at certain studies planned for the Webb Telescope, notably those involving renowned academics from India.

The Galactic Proposals

NASA opened up submissions for Guaranteed Time Observations (GTO) to reward teams of scientists with 16% utilisation of the observatory over its first three cycles of operation, in order to satisfy their cosmic hunger. About 7,900 hours are thought to have been spent on the Guaranteed Time Observer and General Observer programmes in Cycle 1.

Only 266 eminent projects earned this valued telescope time out of the 1,173 bids that the JWST received. Astrophysicist Dr. Jessy Jose from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research in Tirupati and Dr. Manoj Puravankara from the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research in Mumbai are two of the astronomers who are native to our own nation.

As co-investigators of the JWST GO Cycle-I research, both of these astronomers have received honourable time. In April 2023, Dr. Jose will be researching star formation in the centre molecular region of the Milky Way, whereas Dr. Puaravankara will be working on two projects, one of which will get underway this month, making him one of the first researchers to get his grubs on the magical gear.

Baby stars to adult

Puravankara and his group will investigate five protostars, or stars in their “embryonic stage,” with the aid of the Webb telescope and under the supervision of the primary investigator, Dr. Tom Megeath. These still-forming stars will range in mass from one-tenth to twelve times that of the Sun.

They want to use the JWST to study the process through which stars gradually accumulate mass from their accretion discs until they are fully developed adults (A swirling cloud of gas around astronomical objects like stars).

By enabling simulation refinement via sample size scaling, these operations will pave the way for next surveys with the JWST. They will also contribute to giving crucial input for cloud-scale models of star formation.

The JWST is equipped with the NIRSpec near-infrared spectrograph, which will allow for extensive spectroscopic surveys of astronomical objects like distant galaxies or stars, and the MIRI instrument, which is the only one on the telescope that can operate at mid-infrared wavelengths. Puravankara’s team intends to use both of them for the allotted 66.4 hours during the course of their 12-month access period.

“Our understanding of star birth is extensive. Now, we expect to investigate information that was not previously available,” Dr. Puravankara told the Telegraph India.

Studying the birth of galaxies

Dr. Jose is a member of an international research team led by ESA member Steven Longmore that will be studying the Galactic Centre Cloud (GCC), a region in space known as the “cradle of many stars in the universe.” The team also includes members from the US, UK, and Australia.

Studying a region with similar conditions would provide extremely valuable insight into the development of universal laws governing star formation as well as the dependence of the environment on protostellar formation and evolution. This is due to the fact that the bulk of star objects in the universe today created when gas density, temperature, and pressure were at their “optimal” levels (about 3.5 billion years after the Big Bang).

The GCC demonstrates just this. Given this information, Jose’s team plans to conduct a thorough count of the embedded protostellar population in this stunning area of the universe. Over the course of the access period of 12 months, they have been given 27.3 hours.

“Regarding the inaugural photographs made available by the JWST, Jose told Telegraph India, “We expect a lot of science to emerge from the beauty in such images.

In order to understand how life originally began, James Webb’s principal objective is to examine how stars and galaxies evolved following the Big Bang. Compared to its predecessors, the powerful Hubble and the Spitzer Space Telescope, it represents a significant advancement.

We can use the telescope to find out the molecular make-up of the atmospheres of nearby exoplanets that may be habitable. We’ll also look at the origins of some of the universe’s brightest objects, known as quasars, and how their relationship to the early formation of galaxies is related.

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