I was a bit of an outsider as a kid. I didn’t really fit in and I would pretend it was because I was an alien.
I imagined I lived on a planet near the twin stars of Alpha Centauri. I created a whole other world in my head and a language to go with it.
I would lie on my parents driveway at 5 Montana Close, Adamstown Heights, and gaze up at the universe longingly.
If I had shown the slightest aptitude for maths or science I would have loved to do something spacey with my life.
But I am a words person, not a numbers one, so I became a journalist instead.
Many years later – after I learned to fit in a little better – I met an astronomer in New York called Orsola. Our kids were going to the same pre-school overlooking Central Park and a fellow mum introduced us when Orsola took a job at Macquarie University in Sydney.
We’ve stayed good friends over the years and she’s not a big Facebook user, but she posted a photo of herself this week, huddled over a laptop in her car.
It was captioned: “Sitting in the car in Byron bay waiting for POTUS to unveil first image from JWST.”
I had no idea what that meant, but I “liked” the photo anyway, then went off to do a little research and suddenly had a vague understanding of why she was so excited.
The dawn of a new era in astronomy has apparently begun as the world gets its first look at the full capabilities of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, the world’s largest and most powerful space telescope.
“We are elated to celebrate this extraordinary day with the world,” said Greg Robinson, Webb program director at NASA Headquarters. “The beautiful diversity and incredible detail of the Webb telescope’s images and data will have a profound impact on our understanding of the universe and inspire us to dream big.”
Pictured above is a landscape of “mountains” and “valleys” speckled with glittering stars that is actually the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region called NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light, the image reveals for the first time previously invisible areas of star birth.
Called the Cosmic Cliffs, Webb’s seemingly three-dimensional picture looks like craggy mountains on a moonlit evening. In reality, it is the edge of the giant, gaseous cavity within NGC 3324, and the tallest “peaks” in this image are about seven light-years high. The cavernous area has been carved from the nebula by the intense ultraviolet radiation and stellar winds from extremely massive, hot, young stars located in the centre of the bubble, above the area shown in this image.
And this is a section of Stephan’s Quintet, located in the constellation Pegasus.
This dim star at the centre of the Southern Ring Nebula is actually cloaked in dust, as it spews out rings of gas.
And understanding the molecules present in stellar graveyards can help scientists learn more about the process of stellar death.
Orsola was interviewed by ABC News about it and told them: “
“At the heart of the bubble are two stars.
“The bubble was formed by fast wind coming from the central star (the dimmer of the two stars) that ploughs into gas that was ejected by the same star when, in a previous phase, was a red giant star, which puffed up at the end of its life and lost most of its mass into a gentle wind.
“Then the core of the giant (which is sun size or smaller) goes on to making a fast but more tenuous wind. This second wind ploughs into the massive, gently moving wind and makes the bubble.”
Read what else she had to say here: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-07-13/james-webb-space-telescope-live-blog-updates-nasa
According to NASA, Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.
Pretty cool, huh?
Orsola’s husband Nic reckons the first photo POTUS revealed wasn’t quite as ‘wow’ as he was expecting, but the ones that followed were mind-blowing, including signs of water on a planet near a star.
Guess what that might mean?
Stay tuned …
Song of the day: Coldplay “A sky full of stars”