JWST Has Been Busy

The big infrared eye named James Webb Space Telescope has been working hard since first achieving its home position at L2 in January 2022.

Sure, there have been many absolutely gorgeous photos published and that keeps us all excited about our investment. But, that’s not enough ROI, is it? It isn’t and NASA and the JWST team know it, as do the myriad of astronomers who booked research time on JWST. Keep the photos coming, they are the frosting on JWST’s data collection cake. The cake unfortunately is not as eye-grabbing but, hey, I like cake. Let’s have a few pieces of cake.

July 2022 – JWST collects data on objects so far out they existed a mere 500 million years after the big bang. The team is baffled – these objects appear to be fully formed, mature galaxies. What gives? According to contemporary galaxy formation theory they should not exist at that time, in that form. Some have used this data to claim that the big bang theory is dead, that science is finished. Astronomers are scratching their collective heads, but know it will take more data to determine what we are seeing.

November 2022 – JWST collects data on the formation of a new star. Its infrared sensors were able to detect the process as the young (100,000 years) protostar in Taurus spins up an hourglass shaped nebula.  The early signs of a protoplanetary disk can be seen as an edge-on darkening where the star is forming.

November 2022 – JWST analyzes the atmosphere of a distant exoplanet. Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes were able to give us a hint, but JWST gives us the complete chemistry buffet in WASP-39b’s atmosphere. WASP-39b is one of multiple planets orbiting the star WASP-39 in Virgo. It is about the mass of Saturn but way closer to WASP-39 (7 million miles) than Mercury is to our Sun (36 million miles). JWST confirmed the presence of sodium, potassium, and water vapor, adding carbon monoxide and dioxide, and sulfur dioxide.

January 2023 – JWST collects data on the Chamaeleon I Dark Molecular Cloud. Part of our quest for knowledge is our desire to find life or precursor molecules. JWST found ices of water, carbonyl sulfide, ammonia, methane, and methanol. The presence of organic matter within this cloud might provide prebiotic conditions for protoplanetary disks forming around new stars.

April 2023 – JWST gets clear data for an Early-Stage Monster Galaxy Cluster.  Maybe this shows a continuum of the surprise mature galaxies found in 09/22.  At a distance of redshift 7.9, around 13+ billion miles, just 650 million years after the big bang, this cluster could be the infant stage of superclusters like the Coma Cluster in Coma Berenices.

May 2023 – JWST images the first Asteroid Belt ever seen outside our Solar System.

What’s in the Sky?


May 24; after sunset; west: Venus, Castor, Mars, a crescent Moon, and even open cluster M44 are grouped above the horizon. Use binoculars if you have them.