There is far too much dust in the universe, compared to what our calculations predict.
This major problem for astronomy, called the “dust budget crisis”, must be solved to better predict the crucial role of dust in protecting stars, the birth of planets and the accommodation of molecules essential to the life as we know it.
Researchers hope to finally fix the dust problem with the help of the James Webb Space Telescope, which ends months of commissioning on July 12 with the release of its first operational images. Once Webb is ready, among his array of early observations will be dust-producing Wolf-Rayet binary stars to better see the dust’s origin story.
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Webb will be in a better position than many other observatories to spot this elusive compound. With infrared light, it can see through dust clouds, and due to its deep-space orbit, it is far from interfering with light sources that can confuse calculations about the abundance of dust.
Webb’s choice of target is also key to advancing through the dusty mystery. Wolf-Rayet stars, which are exceptionally hot and bright, can be huge dust producers after interacting with companion stars in binary systems.
Astronomers typically spot these stellar interactions through pinwheel patterns, generated when the two stars orbit each other and the winds blowing off the surface of these stars collide in space. However, because Wolf-Rayet stars are so bright, their luminosity exceeds the faint dust emissions nearby.
Webb’s specialized optics, however, will provide unprecedented views in the infrared. Additionally, Webb has a higher resolution than NASA’s now-retired Spitzer Space Telescope, which also observed from space in the infrared.
Long infrared wavelengths of light are not only valued for their ability to see through dust, but they can also provide the spectrum of elements in dust clouds. Some of these chemicals may be crucial to the building blocks of life, giving us clues as to how dust spreads organic molecules through the universe.
“The mid-infrared light Webb can detect is exactly the wavelength of light we want to look at to study dust and its chemical makeup,” said study leader and researcher Ryan Lau at the Japan Agency. Aerospace Exploration (JAXA). a statement 2020 (opens in a new tab) of the Webb Consortium.
Lau’s team will examine two Wolf-Rayet binary systems using two instruments on Webb: the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI) and the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS).
WR 140, a well-studied star system, will serve as a benchmark to ensure Webb’s observations work as expected. Also on the list is WR 137, the two stars of which will approach closely at the start of Webb’s mission during a potential dust-generating event.
Lau’s investigation will be part of a set of early-release science observations made by Webb, during the telescope’s first five months of normal operation. In addition to serving as a survey of our dusty origin story, the Wolf-Rayet observations will also help Webb astronomers test Webb’s dynamic range, or the difference between the brightest and faintest objects we see. he can observe.
Learning the range “will be useful to the astronomy community in many ways in the future, such as studying the dusty disk surrounding the bright center of an active galaxy, or finding a planet orbiting a bright star” , said Mansi Kasliwal, an astronomer. at the California Institute of Technology on the Early Release Science Team, said in the same statement.