A pint or ten for all those involved.
PS - I'm getting a flashback to the late 70's\early 80's opening titles of Doctor Who.
On Monday, NASA released its first image from the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, providing the sharpest and deepest glimpse yet of distant galaxies from the very early universe. The telescope blasted off from Earth at the end of December, and about a month later the probe arrived at its new home about a million miles …
This image, like the Hubble Deep Field image, stuns me when I think about it and they point out how insignificant we are.
As Douglas Adams said:
“Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is."
My mind is boggled. I'll send the boffins a pint (but I'm keeping my towel).
N.B. More images tomorrow.
"you may think it's a long way down the street to the chemist, but listen!"
Honestly tho, my mind is really struggling to process this image. It's too big. Everything is too big. That's an almost imperceptible speck in the night sky and it contains more... everything... than it's even possible to imagine.
Humans were not built to handle this sort of scale. I feel awe and despair in equal measure. If this fails to move anyone, they just didn't grasp the reality of what they're looking at.
"Humans were not built to handle this sort of scale. I feel awe and despair in equal measure. If this fails to move anyone, they just didn't grasp the reality of what they're looking at."
Oh, we do have the capacity. For a very, very short time. But as Dr Who said of Humans, they have an infinite capacity to forget and block anything extraordinary :-)
"Light reflected from this mirror is refocused by a tiny secondary mirror, just 0.74 metres in diameter"
0.79m (near enough 31") is hardly "tiny" ... ask anyone who has ground, polished, silvered & mounted a six or eight inch mirror. I wonder how many ElReg commentards remember the excitement of receiving the box from Edmund Scientific labeled GLASS—FRAGILE.
A beer for the boffins ... and anyone else interested.
We already knew the Universe was very big, but with JWST it has become ten times larger still!!
Makes me wonder: there just has to be other life out there. However, we might never be able to contact or reach them if they're in another Galaxy. Also, life could've evolved millions of years ago, flourished and then extinguished.
...chances of life existing outside our solar system: 100%...
Seeing how quickly simple life emerged on Earth, pretty much as soon as it was cool and wet enough for simple organisms such as algae and PE teachers to thrive, they did.
The change from pond scum to multi-celled took a very long time and that step is less certain so while the galaxy is probably teeming with life, there's probably very little we could recognize as intelligent.
Also there's stellar environments to consider, out here in the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm it's pretty quiet, closer to the core star are a lot closer together meaning planetary orbits can and will be disturbed by passing stars, this is catastrophic for most life forms so probably less than half of the galaxy can sustain planets with life long enough to develop beyond pond scum..
Even at "half", that is between 50 and 200 milliard stars, in the Milky Way alone. And there are a lot of galaxies in that picture.
I gotta agree with A Non e-mouse on this one: An almost certainty of intelligent life, and a near certainty of never being able to contact it, barring a significant shift in our understanding of physics.
Cosmology says it's pretty damn near certain that there's not only other intelligent life in the universe, there's other intelligent life that's indistinguishable from us.
WMAP showed that our Hubble volume is pretty damn flat – the curvature is small. So unless our Hubble volume is unusual in the universe as a whole, the universe is a lot bigger than just our Hubble volume. Probability suggests our Hubble volume is unlikely to be special. So there's reason to assume (it's untestable, assuming you want to keep causality intact) that the universe includes a great many times our Hubble volume, containing a similar arrangement of matter.
And if we assume that physics outside our Hubble volume are consistent with what's in our Hubble volume, then that matter will similarly be grouped into star systems and galaxies and so forth.
There are only so many stable arrangements for protons. Given a really big universe with a lot of matter and consistent physics, those arrangements are going to repeat. A lot.
Of course, even communicating with anyone outside our solar system, even within our part of the Milky Way, is a pretty difficult proposition, given the delays (again, assuming causality is preserved, which I for one would prefer) and the various engineering challenges. So all but a vanishingly small fraction of the possible intelligent life out there will forever remain hypothetical.
"even with sub-light speed propulsion it would take the Human race less than a couple thousand years to populate the entire Milky Way galaxy."
Neat trick, seeing as it takes light somewhere around 180,000 years to cross the galaxy. From Earth's position on the inner edge of the Orion Arm, the furthest reaches of our home galaxy are ~120,000 light years away ... but to get there from here we'd have to take a rather large detour around the Galactic Center (at least until the demolition and rebuilding slows down a trifle).
Sadly it is entirely possible for an infinite system to have less than 1 probability of something that is theoretically possible. Mathematics has many examples of infinite summations that are finite. The sum of the reciprocal squares of the positive integers is finite, if the probability that each of your monkeys has a one trillionth times the reciprocal of their number squared probability of writing the works of Shakespeare, then even an infinite number of monkeys would have a tiny chance of writing them, but each would have positive probability.
As far as we know, life on Earth is unique and very precious, it would be nice if we could treat the biosphere accordingly.
Am very aware that infinite sums can be finite: am mathematician. Indeed this is one such case: divide universe into hubble volumes, chance of life in each is c, chance in n is infinite number of hubble volumes ... chance is 1, unless c is 0 which we know it is not.
what you are missing is homogeneity (one of implications of cosmological principle). All these volumes are the same, have the same laws of physics same amount of matter. You keep throwing the dice of arrangements of that matter you will get life with nonzero probability in each one.
yes cosmological principle is principle ie assumption. So is flatness (rather than just approximate flatness), then spatial infiniteness and blah. But given those assumptions probability is in fact 1. See comments by Michael Wojcik who goes into some detail.
(Of course most of it will be causally disconnected from us, and none of this means we should decide Earth does not matter.)
The problem is that we are using a mathematical model (probability theory) to analyse reality. Remember that the model is not reality, it is just a model, and infinities and infinitesimals are tricky. Yes, it is certainly possible that in an infinite universe divided into large volumes each with matter (galaxies, stars, dust, gas, planets etc.) we would assess each as having a non-zero probability of containing intelligent life, but there is also the chance that none of them, apart from our own, does. Statistical models are probabilities, not necessarily reality.
I just hope that if there are aliens out there they are doing a better job of looking after each other and their habitation than we are.
(Alien icon, obvs.)
Yes, all of physics is mathematical model.
But if you can establish a finite (no need for infinitesimals or any non standard number system) lower bound for the probability of life in some volume, or equivalently a finite lower bound for the probability density over some spacelike surface, then in an infinite homogeneous universe (so assuming flatness, no weird global topology, cosmological principle, all as I said earlier) then probability of life is 1. Not 'approximately 1', 1.
And it is easy to establish such a finite lower bound in fact: simply compute the probability of life spontaneously arising due to quantum effects (this is related to Boltzmann brain idea). This is very small but it is finite. Real bound will presumably be far higher but we do not need it: we can just use this one.
I am done here now as it seems increasingly you are arguing from some weird philosophical position and I have no time for those, at all. I am scientist (well, mathematician) I do science not silly word games.
"life could've evolved millions of years ago, flourished and then extinguished"
Some of the very stars that show in the image may indeed no longer exist - we're talking billions of light years distances here. That's an interesting if not often mentioned feature of astronomy - observations of star fields are not temporally distinct.
It can be argued that "no longer" doesn't even make epistemological sense for things like this. We can't have any interactions with those objects faster than light, so their existence "now" relative to a frame of reference based on Earth is in a certain sense irrelevant. What we're interacting with is the light they generated that reached us; whether those objects still exist "now" has no material consequences for us.
Of course, the lifetimes of stars and galaxies and other astronomical objects are questions worthy of research and analysis, for understanding how the universe works. But for a specific object it's the light that's here, and not the matter that's there, which matters to us.
We can propose thought experiments like "if you could instantaneously be transported to the spot that light originated from, make an observation, and then instantaneously be transported back here...". But 1) that galaxy, if it still exists, wouldn't be in the same place "now" relative to Earth; and 2) this instantaneous back-and-forth could lead to temporal paradoxes and causality violations, so we're already in weird and dubious territory.
(OK, it's hard to see how you could create a meaningful causality violation with just this sort of single-back-and-forth between two very distant points in space. But it points to how this sort of thought experiment is already on thin ice.)
For long-distance observations, space and time are inseparable, which makes simultaneity a concept of questionable utility.
I saw somewhere that the age of that galactic cluster is 4.6 billion years. About the age of the solar system, give or take a hundred million or two.
So there may easily be life there now. As for the epoch when that light began its journey to us there is still plenty of time from the big bang some 13 billion years back.
The universe. Some information to help you live in it.
One: ‘Area’. Infinite. As far as anyone can make out
Two: ’Imports’. None. It’s impossible to import things into an infinite area, there being no outside to import things in from.
Three: ‘Exports’. None. See ’Imports’.
Four: ‘Rainfall’. None. Rain can not fall because in an infinite space there is no up for it to fall down from.
Five: ‘Population’. None. It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, but that not everyone is inhabited. Therefore, there must be a finite number of inhabited worlds.
Any finite number divided by infinity is as near to nothing as makes no odds.
So, if every planet in the universe has a population of zero, then the entire population of the universe must also be zero, and any people you may actually meet from time to time are merely the products of a deranged imagination.
Six: ‘Monetary Units’. None. In fact, there are three freely convertible currencies in the universe, but the Altairian Dollar has recently collapsed, the Flainian Pobble Bead is only exchangeable for other Flainian Pobble Beads, and the Triganic Pu doesn’t really count as money.
It’s exchange rate of six Ningis to one Pu is simple, but since a Ningi is a triangular rubber coin six-thousand, eight-hundred miles long each side, no one has ever collected enough to own one Pu. Niginis are not negotiable currency because the Galactic Banks refuse to deal in fiddling small change.
From this Basic premise it’s very simple to prove that the Galactic Banks are also the products of a deranged imagination.
Seven. ‘Sex’. None. Well - actually, there is an awful lot of this. Largely because of the total lack of money, trade, banks, rainfall, or anything else that might keep all the nonexistent people in the universe occupied.
However, it’s not worth embarking on a long discussion of it now, because it really is, terribly complicated. For further information See Chapters Seven, Nine, Ten, Eleven, Fourteen, Sixteen, Seventeen, Nineteen, Twenty-One to Eighty-Four inclusive, and… most of the rest of the book.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson have had a hard time sleuthing in London all spring, so they decide to take a nice summer break camping in Cornwall.
In the middle of their first night Holmes wakes Watson and ask him "Watson, look up and tell me what you see, and what you think it means."
Watson replies "I see a myriad of stars Holmes. If only one in a thousand stars has a planet, and if only one in a thousand planets has life, and if only one in a thousand of those planets has intelligent life, then there must be thousand of intelligent beings in the universe."
Holmes says "No you fool! It means some bastard has stolen our fucking tent!"
"Any sign of god?"
Yes! The brightest stars are all sexagrams, or hexagrams if you are an unsexy Greek. Exactly like in every naivety Christmas card above the manger.
I'm a life long militant atheist but that photo has convinced me there is a G~d, and we need to learn their pronouns as they/he/she seems to be transitioning.
You think he's going to pick your lifetime to show up in the shot, with a microscopic sign saying 'Yes I'm here'? Which of the 7000+ languages of the world should it be written in? I expect if he did people'd call it fakery.
I myself would think he'd do something a bit more dramatic, so that those who deny his existence have no excuse. You know, save some people and animals from a devastating flood*, parting some large body of water, the odd miracle? To paraphrase something from a story this guy born in Bethlehem once told a crowd somewhere, 'there's just no convincing some people, if they don't believe history, not even someone coming back from the grave will convince them.'
* Local or global depending on how you want to interpret a word that can mean 'earth/land/a particular small territory'.
Current scientific understanding hinges on about 80-90% of the universe being invisible and undetectable (for now, I can't remember if dark matter is one of the things JW hopes to understand?) Quite a large gap :)
But the 'god of the gaps' argument is and always been a bad one. Neither theologians nor physicists like it. You don't ascribe everything you can't understand "well that's God". Physics - as us physicists well be the first to tell you - is a study of what and how and when, not why. A complete unified theory of everything wouldn't remove that.
I'd prefer a Cobra Mk3, but yeah, the sentiment is the same... It pains me to know that, no matter when I'd been born or how long I might live, there will *always* be things from my history that I wish I'd been around to see, and things from my future that I wish I could be around to see.
Anyone who wants to be a politician should never be allowed to.
I'd prefer picking them from the general public for a 6 month stint, maybe 12 months. Long enough to do useful stuff, but not long enough to become a corrupt power adict. Could do it a bit like jury duty - make it a civic responsibility. But allow people to refuse, and absolutely don't allow them to be picked again for at least 2 years.
No campaigning, no fund raising, just state your political alligience. No opportunity for campaign corruption, and reduced lobbying and influencing ability because the candidates are unknown until after selection.
Selections need to pass a basic intelligence test plus usual background checks. While they are performing this civic duty, pay them the wage a current politician would receive. No outside work permitted; you're there to do one job so just do it without external distractions.
Like jury duty, employers must keep the position open of any employee selected.
Sure, it's not perfect. But the current system is so far from perfect, almost anything is an improvement.
At the L2 point, yes. But, 'the JWST orbits the second Sun-Earth Lagrange point,' going around it rather than sitting right there, a distance of 250,000–832,000 km away from it (I must admit, I had to look that detail up on Wikipedia, and would have guessed it was rather closer). I did see a nice animation of that orbit recently; I'll see if I can find that and add it as a follow-up.
At that distance the Earth does not eclipse the Sun completely so some of the Sun is always visible. However JWST orbits around L2 so Sun is likely never shaded for it.
Reason for L2 in fact is that Earth and Sun are both in approx same direction so you can put heat shield up and protect against heat from both the large objects at the same time (also Moon I expect). Anywhere else you either need to be too far from Earth which lowers bandwidth or you need two shields. So L2 is brilliant for this.
Smarter Every Day did a good video on it, with an interview with John Mather, Senior Project Boffin for the James Webb telescope. One of the things he explains is why they chose L2, in laymans terms too. Other things explained also. Worth a watch.
That is least convincing article I have ever read. Well no it is not, but it is very unconvincing. In particular notice the littly tiny caption on their second table:
Similar to Figure 1, but for Mond with hypothetical particles that only interact via gravity called sterile neutrinos. Notice the lack of clear falsifications.
Wait, wait: MOND with hypothetical particles that only interact via gravity called sterile neutrinos. Right yes, I see, so you patch up MOND to make it work with particles which only interact gravitationally, but which we cannot otherwise detect. Yes, yes, we could perhaps give those particles a name, could we not? Something like, I don't know, 'dark stuff'? 'invisible matter'? 'invisible stuff'? Hmm, hmm, yes.
I look forward to many more amazing images and data (more important really I suppose).
I hope they start planning a replacement soon though given how long it took to get this one going. That or they devise a way of refuelling it.
As others many of these for the team(s) that got it to this stage. --->
Roman is not a replacement for JWST, it is a converted KH-11 spy sat (one of the two spares that NRO gave to NASA) so it will be similar in performance to Hubble but with a much shorter focal length, so it won't be able to see anywhere near as far as Hubble but it will capture a much larger field of view.
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I would have assumed those effects cancel out?
Sure, we're looking at a field hundreds of millions of light years across, but we're also trying to focus on something billions of light years away - bits of it are billions of light years closer to us than other bits. There'd be some really complex parallax effects to cancel out if there were any movement at this end at all.
On the face of it it would make sense for some bits to be experiencing motion blur and other bits not.
OK. If JWST operates at 1000nm (near IR, this image is near IR) and has mirror 6.5m its angular resolution limit is about 1.8E-7 radian. So we can ask: how far would it have to move for the parallax between two objects it is looking at, one of which is 4.6E9ly and the other is about 13E9ly away to change by this amount? Is quite easy to calculate this: l = 1.8E-7(1/d1 - 1/d2)^-1 where d1, d2 are the two distances.
Answer is ... about 1300ly. or about 10 million times orbital radius of Earth, or about 330 times distance to nearest star. But a bit less than 5% of the way to centre of our galaxy, so not that far, really.
So parallax is not a problem here.
Also optically it is all 'at infinity': for the same reason you do not need to refocus your camera when taking a picture of something on km away and something two km away you do not need to refocus a telescope when taking a picture of something 4.6 billion ly away and something 13 billion ly away.
>there's quite some movement on the JWST part from the beginning to the end of that that can only partially compensated
If there was an issue with JWST 'moving' then the whole picture would be affected by motion blur, not just the garvitationally lensed galaxies.
I guess if you really want to know how stable the telescope is, you could always RTFM
This is gravitational lensing. The light from these distant galaxies has passed large massive objects (galaxies in the foreground cluster) and has thus 'changed direction' (really: it has travelled in a 'straight line' (geodesic) through spacetime which is curved by these massive objects), which gives rise to this distorted appearance.
The diffraction spikes ('those six-fold glare thingies') in the image are caused by the fact that the main mirror comprises 18 hexagonal shaped smaller mirrors.
The size of the fairing on a rocket that would be needed to launch a mirror with the surface area of a tennis court into space in one piece would be enormous and the aerodynamics of supersonic flight in the Earth's lower atmosphere quite tricky, I imagine.
So yes, currently space telescope technology is still stuck with diffraction spikes due to the limitations of rocket science.
No, and it will not do so. The spikes come from three things: the overall shape of the mirror, the edges of the mirror segments and the struts which hold the secondary mirror.
The first two you cannot do without (the design of the struts is chosen so that their spikes overlap with those from the mirror segments).
The last one you cannot do without if you wish to have a mirror which contains individually adjustable segments, or which can be folded up for launch. You could by building really enormous spacecraft deal with the second, but you still need the first for very large mirrors.
Note that the spikes are extremely dim compared to the image: the reason they appear so bright in this image is that there are foreground stars which are extremely bright compared to the objects of interest in the image which are therefore grossly overexposed in this very long exposure.
They only show up on the local starts that are too bright for JWST cameras, and you can use other telescopes can capture images of local stars. If JWST was studying a local star it would be with it's two spectrographs and with those it can close shutters to block some of the light out if needed.
Yes you could do that I think, at the cost of halving the useful telescope time.
However it is important that those spikes are very very dim: if you are looking at some object then in order to see those spikes show up at all the object would be vastly over exposed. In the image for this article every object has these spikes around it, but you can only see the ones from the vastly overexposed foreground stars.
Indeed is possible to see from this image how dim these spikes really are: if you start from the very spiky star just to left and up from centre of image, now look at vertical spike from it. A little way up it crosses a red galaxy, which clearly brighter than the spike at that point. That galaxy is red, so it is presumably a member of the background field not the closer-to-us galaxy cluster. Perhaps it is 10bn ly away or more I do not know. But it appears comfortably brighter than the spike.
If JWST was to take a useful image of the foreground star which is making the spikes then they would not even be visible.
There are very few modern things that fill me with a real sense of awe and wonder, but that picture just succeeded admirably. I tried counting the gravitational lens distortions and then tried assigning different galaxies to the same object. Failed. Too many and my knowledge of astrophysics is too poor.
Mentally absolutely dancing with excitement for the next releases.
Try to recall the first pictures from Hubble after the mirror was fixed and the images Hubble took a year or so later, the difference in detail was astonishing.
We can expect the same with JWST, this picture is a pale teaser of what you can expect over the next few years.
Also they'll get rid of the starburst effect, it's caused by the arms supporting the secondary mirror.
Entering AC mode ...
Ok, so that's a lot of money. For that amount of money, we're (they're) getting some incredible pictures, the kudos for having built an amazing camera, and probably more funding.
But here back at the host planet, things are going TITSUP. Could that money not be better spent on finding real solutions for then increasingly sticky situation that we find ourselves in?
And you'd have a load of bored astronomical engineers with no interest in, say, agricultural engineering, who would be crappy agricultural engineers if you forced them to do it. Human skills and enthusiasm are not fungible, "lump of labour" does not scale.
AC: "Could that money not be better spent on finding real solutions for then increasingly sticky situation that we find ourselves in?"
Actually a good question. Yes, it could have been used for famine relief, medical treatments or research, housing, clean water and education opportunities for the poor, any number of good causes, but, and it is big 'but', humanity wastes so much money on fripperies already we'd be better off clamping down on tax havens.
For example, just take a look at the 'super-yachts' owned by billionaires the world over. How much time do they actually spend on them? Yet each one costs over US£100 million. Even 'poor millionaires; here in the UK use tax havens to keep as much of 'their money' out of 'the taxman's' grasp. Look at how HSBC enabled Russian Oligarchs' laundering of hundreds of millions of dollars (possibly many billions of dollars) of wealth taken out of Russia, and used to buy houses in London and elsewhere. people buy multiple Rolls Royce motor cars, private jets (Lewis Hamilton, Formula 1 racing driver spent £16 million oh his, but avoided lots of VAT by registering it in the Isle of Man).
The then UK Prime Minister actually singled out the comedian Jimmy Carr for using a tax dodge to acoid paying tax on his earnings, when subsequently it was revealed that Cameron had inherited £2 million from his father tax free as it was in a tax haven, he was adamant that it was all perfectly reasonable and legit.
Look at the money the USA poured into Afghanistan, only for much of it to be siphoned off by corrupt officials so that when the USA pulled out the Taliban took over in a matter of days.
If you want money spent on genuinely good causes, be prepared for real fight against corruption, and guard your back - remember Magnitsky. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sergei_Magnitsky
We all need some beauty and awe in our lives.
One should also not ignore the potential benefits of expanding human knowledge.
It is impossible to say today whether an astronomical observation will not provide the capstone of knowledge needed to solve or avoid future humanitarian problems here on earth.
At a cost of 10 billion, that works out at less than 1.5 dollars per person on the planet. How far will that go in solving the worlds problems ? Far greater sums are already being invested in global issues.
Instead of suggesting we stop peaceful scientific research, ask yourself how much money the world is wasting every year on arms and war. Now cutting that out could make a real difference.
>Instead of suggesting we stop peaceful scientific research, ask yourself how much money the world is wasting every year on arms and war. Now cutting that out could make a real difference.
Don't worry, a good chunk of the hardware and development cost went to defence companies
...Could that money not be better spent on finding real solutions for then increasingly sticky situation...
When making the mirrors they needed an incredibly accurate measuring system which unfortunately didn't exist so they had to design some new tools and techniques.
Those are now being used to make laser eye surgery more accurate and safer.
That alone may or may not justify the $10b but there are often serendipitous advances made with cutting edge engineering projects.
It was about $10 billion. This was too much and much more than it should have been.
During 2020-2021 the UK government wrote off (which means 'threw away' I think) £8.7 billion on PPE they could not use.
OK picking UK government as comparison is unfair as they are both very dim and very corrupt, but $10 billion is not so much.
On one hand, I agree: how many more teachers could be hired, healthcare given to poor people, houses built for the homeless, and so on with the money spent on JWST.
On the other hand, as many commentards have pointed out, much MUCH more money is already being piffled away on crap with close to zero value other than lining a scant handful of privileged pockets.
So I'm left with yes, it's a bit of money, but at least for this investment we are increasing knowledge (of the universe, from custom-building parts of the system), inspiring more youths to study the sciences to maybe help solve some of the world's problems, and, as commented above, giving us a bit more awe and beauty. F-35s don't do that.
A grain of sand at arm's length... what sort of arc or whatever is that? Put another way, how many photos would JW need to take to get a complete photo of space? Is it easy to tell where to look or could the the most boring spot actually contain some incredible discovery when peered at very carefully?
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