Irish developers mark historic moment for James Webb Space Telescope at special event
(12.07.2022) The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies (DIAS) has released the first full-colour images from the world’s largest space telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, at a fully-booked event at the Dunsink Observatory in Castleknock.
The images, the first of their kind, were shared by NASA, in partnership with European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, during a televised broadcast, which DIAS livestreamed to members of the general public and the science community.
Professor Tom Ray and Dr Patrick Kavanagh from DIAS played a key role in the development of the telescope, which is the largest and most powerful space telescope ever built. It is expected to transform our understanding of the universe.
Over the course of its 10-year mission, the James Webb Space Telescope will collect more light than any previous telescope, looking deeper into space to see the earliest stars, planets and galaxies in the universe, and study how they were formed.
Jointly developed by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency, it will succeed the Hubble Space Telescope as NASA’s flagship astrophysics mission.
Commenting today, Dr. Eucharia Meehan, CEO and Registrar of DIAS, said: “This is an exciting day for us at DIAS which sees years of work coming to fruition with the release of the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope. We are lucky to have some of the top cosmic physicists from around the world working at DIAS. Our team of scientists involved in the development of the Mid-Infrared Instrument are at the forefront of ground-breaking research in space, helping us to unlock mysteries in our universe. Today’s images allow us to look back more than 13 billion years showing the deepest and highest resolution infrared view of the universe ever captured. We’re extremely proud that DIAS scientists are involved in this incredible project.”
A team of Irish scientists from DIAS, Professor Tom Ray and Dr. Patrick Kavanagh, were involved in the development of the infrared instrument.
Tom Ray is a Senior Professor and Director of Cosmic Physics at DIAS, and is Co-Principal Investigator for the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) – one of four instruments on the Webb Telescope. Speaking at the event, Professor Ray explained the importance of the technology: “The telescope uses improved infrared technology to observe the universe, which allows it to see through dust and gas in ways other telescopes, like the Hubble, cannot.
“MIRI is a camera and a spectrograph that observes mid to long infrared radiation. It also has a coronagraph (a specialised instrument designed to block out the light of a star), specifically for observing exoplanets. This enables the telescope to study the universe with an unprecedented level of detail.
“We at DIAS are very proud of our involvement in this historic moment. Seeing these images of the Carina Nebula, which is 7,600 light-years away, and Stephan’s Quintet, which is 290 million light-years away in the constellation Pegasus, is just fantastic.”
Stephan’s Quintet was the first compact galaxy group ever discovered in 1877, 63 years before the foundation of DIAS in Dublin. Four of the five galaxies within this quintet are locked in a cosmic dance of repeated close encounters.
Dr. Patrick Kavanagh, also from DIAS, is a member of the international MIRI team. He participated in commissioning the instrument at the Webb Mission Operations Centre in Baltimore. His work involves analysing and interpreting the data collected by the Webb Telescope.
Speaking today, Dr. Kavanagh said the release of these images from the James Webb Space Telescope represents an important milestone in the exploration of space. “The observations collected from this telescope will help us piece together how the first galaxies evolved and how and where stars and planets form.”