Go back in time and push the limits of knowledge: this is the promise of James Webb, the most powerful telescope ever built. French physicist and writer Christophe Galfardstudent and collaborator of the great astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, testifies in the documentary James Webb, Journey to the Origins of the Universebroadcast on Thursday the 13th October, at 9:00 p.m. hours, in France 5. The scientist gives us his impressions of this amazing tool.
franceinfo : What impresses you most about James Webb ?
Christophe Galfard : Honestly, almost all of the collective imagination that we have of space is linked to the images that the Hubble telescope gives us. It transformed our vision of the Universe. There, with James Webb, we are in the next generation. Thanks to it we have new images of spectacular beauty, which open up stretches of our cosmic reality hitherto unexplored for being invisible and undetectable. And that’s pretty crazy.
For you who care about disseminating science, James Webb is a necessary tool in your research ?
Oh yes, because the images that it allows us to have of the Universe are fabulous and allow me, during the conferences, to explain many things. And then, from a personal point of view, it’s super satisfying to project yourself in such distant places in such detail. We even see dust ejected by black holes in ultradistant galaxies. It’s crazy, and not only for the general public, but also for scientists. Because before Hubble, no scientist had ever seen these kinds of images either. It is truly a gift that humanity is giving itself today by having these splendid images.
Are scientists working on these images? ?
No, the data scientists work on is not the images themselves. They can be used, but the raw data is in a much more encrypted form. These are large data tables. the original shots restored by James Webb they are unreadable, it takes a lot of work to make the images look like those beautiful shots we can admire today. Also, originally, the colors, which are called electromagnetic waves, whether or not they are visible to our eyes, come from space one by one, they are detected independently of each other. Whereas us, when we look at a photo, we have all the colors overlapping at once.
Will scientists be able to design an even more powerful telescope? ?
Of course. Here we are again in a telescope that uses light that our eyes cannot see, called infrared light. But there are telescopes that will be able to see beyond the infrared and will see other particles and signals capable of traversing space and even earlier times. We are not there yet, but scientists are already working on the next one, although they are still analyzing what James Webb can bring, because we are only at the beginning of its exploitation.
Do you think James Webb will be able to detect extraterrestrial life? ?
James Webb has such sensitivity that it will allow us to analyze, as never before, the atmosphere of distant planets. He means that we are starting to have tools that will help us detect molecular signals of things that exist on other planets. What’s more, one of the first five James Webb images we discovered this summer was precisely related to the atmosphere. He shows that we can do it, so to answer his question, yes, it’s quite possible.
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