Wow, wow, wow. Galaxies collide and tumble in a cosmic dance: Webb reactions

Aussie astronomers react to NASA Webb first images.

Nearly 40 researchers across Australia are eagerly awaiting data from Webb for their projects. Many of them are available to talk on Tuesday about what they hope to see with Webb and about their reaction to the first pictures

Kim-Vy Tran

“Wow, wow, wow!!!  The Webb telescope continues to absolutely amaze and delight with these first images!” says Kim-Vy Tran, a UNSW and ASTRO 3D astrophysicist.

“Stephan’s Quintet is a fabulous system of close galaxies. You can almost feel the shockwaves as these galaxies collide and tumble in their cosmic dance.  Bound together by gravity, these galaxies are important for understanding the future of galaxies like our Milky Way.”

“The Carinae Nebula is also just superb. It’s a stellar nursery full of baby stars where we’re seeing incredible levels of details for the first time. It’s like before we could see just the trees in the forest, but now we can see down to the branches and even the leaves of individual trees. Some of these baby stars are super-charged giants that are radiating huge amounts of energy. Imagine a UV index of a gazillion!”

Elisabete da Cunha

The first stars and galaxies. “I’ve been looking at this picture non-stop since I woke up, I can’t stop looking at it,” says astrophysicist Elisabete da Cunha at UWA and ASTRO 3D in Perth.

“There are thousands of galaxies in the deep field image… We are seeing them with amazing amounts of detail that we couldn’t see with Hubble… JWST is really blowing it out of the park. It’s amazing.

“Hubble took my favourite astronomical image of all time: the Hubble Ultra Deep Field,” she says. “That tiny dark patch of sky reveals over ten thousand distant galaxies. This completely revolutionized our view of the Universe.

“We will be able to observe even more distant galaxies than with the Hubble — in fact, we expect to observe the very first galaxies that lit up the Universe!”

Kathryn Grasha

“Webb will allow us to view the birth of stars within the hearts of the densest, dust-enshrouded cores of molecular clouds,” says astrophysicist Kathryn Grasha from ANU and ASTRO 3D.

“The ‘unknown unknowns’ are the most exciting prospect for the next decade. And the breathtaking views of the Universe are guaranteed to ignite the excitement and imagination of the public and inspire the next generation of astronomers,” she says.

Themiya Nanayakkara

“It is quite humbling to see the sharpest images of our birth clouds in our cosmic neighbourhood,” says Themiya Nanayakkara, Chief Scientist, James Webb Australian Data Centre at Swinburne University and ASTRO 3D.

“With the help of different instruments in JWST we can now cut through many layers of dust to see what is really going on in these regions. They demonstrate to us the cosmic recycling processes: a remnant of a dead star resulting in thousands of newer generation young stars, many of which we have never seen before. 

“As a person who have spent many nights using the largest telescopes on Earth to detect the faintest signatures of the early cosmos, I feel JWST will be game changing. The released spectra show that we not only detect one faint line but also the full suite of chemical elements in these galaxies. This, for the first time, gives us unique human DNA-like signatures of the first galaxies in the Universe to build up the origin story of life and everything around us.”

James Miller-Jones

Curtin University astronomer James Miller-Jones says: “These spectacular images highlight the diversity of areas in which the James Webb Space Telescope will make major contributions to knowledge, and how much we have to look forward to over the coming years!

“I’m excited by how well the instruments seem to be performing. In particular, the spectrum of the extrasolar gas giant planet highlights some of the new discovery space that the telescope is opening up, allowing us to see longer wavelengths of light that had not previously been accessible to us. The fingerprints of the different physical processes that are encoded in these spectra hold so much information. Given the sensitivity and the quality of the data, I can’t wait to see more!”

Ilya Mandel

“The newly released James Webb Space Telescope images are beautiful and exciting in their own right, and in terms of the fantastic prospects they highlight for the future,” says astrophysicist Ilya Mandel from Monash University and ASTRO 3D.

“There is much more to come — and I am looking forward with great excitement to seeing the capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope trained on other astrophysical puzzles, including cosmic transients such as the mergers of two neutron stars, which may be responsible for the production of much of the gold in the Universe.”

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