NASA’s Webb Space Telescope is so good, we may need improved planetary models

It has become very clear, over the past few months, that NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope It does exactly what it is set to do. Just as its makers had hoped, the multibillion-dollar machine “unfolds the universe” flawlessly It reveals the cosmic light that we cannot see With our own eyes – and its excellent results make even the most discerning stargazer unlikely to feel alive.

Because of this gold-plated binoculars, Twitter got wild one day Above the dark red dot. For 48 hours, people around the world have been staring at a galaxy that was born shortly after the same time was born. It seems that thanks to JWST’s technological prowess, humanity stands united on stardust.

But that’s the thing.

Amid personal dread, scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology warn that we must consider one critical scientific As a result of owning a super telescope.

If JWST is like upgrading the scale from zero to 100, they wonder, is it possible that our scientific models need a restart from zero to 100 as well? Are the data sets that scientists have been using for decades unable to match the power of the device and thus fall short of what it is trying to tell us?

Clara Souza Silva, a quantum astrochemist at the Harvard & Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, tells CNET.

And according to a new study she co-authored, Published Thursday in Nature Astronomythe answer is yes.

More specifically, this paper notes that some of the light analysis tools that scientists typically use to understand the atmospheres of exoplanets are not fully equipped to handle the JWST’s extraordinary light data. In the long run, such a handicap may have the greatest impact particle JWST’s Mission for Everyone: The Search for Extraterrestrial Life.

“Currently, the model we use to decode the spectral information does not match the accuracy and quality of the data we have from the James Webb Telescope,” Prajwal Niraula, a graduate student in the MIT Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and co-author of the study, said. He said in a statement. “We need to up our game.”

The Carina Nebula: Stars sparkle against an indigo background above rusty bronze gas clouds

The Carina Nebula, as imaged by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope.


Here’s one way to think about this puzzle.

Imagine pairing the newest and strongest Xbox console With the first iteration of TV. (Yes, I know the extreme hypothetical nature of my scenario scenario.) The Xbox will try to give the TV great, colorful, and beautiful graphics to show us – but the TV won’t have the power to count any of them.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the TV went off straight. But the point is, you won’t do that I know What Xbox is trying to give you, unless you get an equally high definition TV.

Likewise, in the context of exoplanet discoveries, scientists feed an array of deep space light, or photon, into models that test for “opacity.” Opacity measures how easily photons pass through a material and varies depending on things like the wavelength of the light, the material’s temperature and pressure.

This means that each such interaction leaves behind a clear signature of the properties of the photon, and thus, when it comes to exoplanets, what kind of chemical atmosphere those photons passed through to reach the light detector. This is how scientists do a reverse calculation, from optical data, of what the atmosphere of an exoplanet is made of.

In this case, the detector’s correlation lies with the James Webb Space Telescope — but in the team’s new study, after putting the most commonly used dimming model to the test, the researchers saw the JWST light data hit what they call the “resolution wall.” ”

The model wasn’t sensitive enough to analyze things like whether the planet’s atmosphere temperature was 300 or 600 Kelvin, the researchers say, or whether a particular gas made up 5% or 25% of the atmosphere. Such a difference is not only statistically significant, but also for each nerula, “it is also important in order to constrain planetary formation mechanisms and to reliably identify biosignatures.”

This is evidence of alien life.

“We need to work on our interpretive tools, so that we don’t find ourselves seeing something amazing through the JWST but not knowing how to interpret it,” Souza Silva said.

A red amorphous dot on the void of space

Are we looking at the oldest galaxy ever found?


Furthermore, the team also found that their models mask their uncertain readings. Some adjustments can easily be made for uncertainty, considering the results appropriate when they are incorrect.

Julian de Wit, assistant professor of EAPS at MIT and co-author of the study, said in a statement.

Going forward, the team urges better opacity models to suit JWST’s amazing discoveries — particularly the call for intersection studies between astronomy and spectroscopy.

“There is a lot that can be done if we know exactly how light interacts with matter,” says Niraula. “We know that well enough about Earth conditions, but once we move into different types of atmosphere, things change, and that’s a lot of data, as the quality increases, we risk misinterpreting it.”

De Wit compares the current opacity model to the ancient language translation tool Rosetta Stone, explaining that so far, the Rosetta Stone has been performing well, as has the Hubble Space Telescope.

“But now that we’re taken to the next level of Web accuracy, our translation process will prevent us from discovering important minute details, such as those that make the difference between a habitable planet or not,” the researcher said.

In the words of Souza Silva, “It is a call to improve our models, so as not to miss the finer details of the data.”