Space Fan News #48: JWST Making a Splash at AAS; Herschel Looks at Clouds; Hubble Outdoes Itself

Uploaded by tdarnell on 10.01.2012

Hello Space Fans and welcome to a special Space Fan News covering day two of the meeting
of the American Astronomical Society.
Things are really heating up in Austin now, astronomers are getting their groove on, their
butts are starting to get sore sitting in those crappy convention chairs and everybody's
running around trying to see and hear everything they can.
To help give you a feel for just how many talks are available to see and hear, here's
Dr, Alberto Conti, the JWST Innovation Scientist:
of you commented that I should just say Webb Space Telescope since that's what we do for
Hubble - we just say Hubble Space Telescope.
And in fact, many people at the Institute are starting to do just that. When I hear
it though, I keep thinking it's some kind of webcam. Like the Webb Space Cam. I'll get
used to it but I prefer to say JWST. Or James Webb Space Telescope. It's more like saying
Neil deGrasse Tyson.
If you don't get that reference, you'll have to watch some past episodes of this vid cast,
where I wondered out loud why we always say his middle name. Why do we always say 'Neil
deGrasse Tyson'? Why don't we just say 'Neil Tyson'? I can't imagine him introducing himself
using his middle name.
Anyway, you just watch it, you'll see.
OK, so this year, NASA and the Webb Space Telescope (see I did it) have a big presence
at the meeting. Now that things are really ramping up with the Project, they want to
do all they can to get the word out and keep people informed on how things are progessing.
I already reported on that yesterday as far as the project itself goes, but don't believe
me, here's John Mather the Project Scientist of JWST.
You may remember him, he won a nobel prize for finding little inhomogeneities in the
cosmic microwave background using the COBE satellite. Here he is answering a question
on JWST funding:
Also, I want to show you the JWST booth at the meeting. Here, lots of people were on
hand here to answer questions and there was a questionairre to get feedback from astronomers
on the kinds of tools they might need to do analysis with JWST data.
Next, the Herschel and Spitzer Space Telescopes have taken some amazing infrared pictures
of the large and small Magellanic clouds. I love this because I don't talk about Herschel
enough. Like Spitzer it is an Infrared Telescope with a primary mirror that's three and a half
meters in diameter. What's cool about Herschel (sorry, no pun intended) is that it's at the
L2 point, which is a million and a half kilometers away, along with the Planck Space Telescope.
Now you may recall that that is also where we are sending the Webb Space Telescope in
2018. So it's really good that we've already gotten some experience operating telescopes
out there so far away from Earth. Although I think the Webb will be orders of magnitude
more complicated to deploy than these guys.
So the big news is that today they released these exquisite pictures of the Large and
Small Magellanic Clouds. These clouds are really small, irregular satellite galaxies
that are very close to the Milky Way - about 150 thousand light years or so.
In these infrared images the Large Magellenic Cloud looks like a giant explosion with ribbons
of dust rippling throughout the galaxy. We can also see regions of intense star formation.
The Large Magellanic Cloud harbors some of the highest rates of star formation outside
of our galaxy. Thousands of stars are being born here.
The Small Magellanic Cloud is much more irregular in shape. An enormous stream of dust thousands
of light years long, known as the 'Galaxy's Wing' extends towards the left in this image.
Studying these galaxies gives us the best, closest opportunity to study star formation
outside our Milky Way and since star formation affects the evolution of galaxies, it is hoped
that understanding the story of these stars will provide insight into the lifecycles of
the galaxies that harbor them.
Another cool tidbit: did you know that star formation in the universe peaked around 10
billion years ago? Stars are still being born today, just not as many as there were in the
Finally, not to be outdone, Hubble finds finds the farthest protocluster of galaxies ever
seen. Mainly just to show it could.
A protocluster is a group of galaxies just starting to clump together and this one was
one of the largest - and the first - to do so.
Forming just 600 million years after the Big Bang, this is one of the largest structures
to ever exist. This protocluster has probably grown into one of massive groups of galaxies
to ever form, comparable to the Virgo cluster, which now contains over two thousand galaxies.
The five bright galaxies spotted by Hubble are only about one-half to one-tenth the size
of our galaxy, yet they shine just as bright.
The reason? Huge amounts of gas fed by an almost constant stream of galaxy collisions
provide fuel for an unprecedented rate of star formation, each new star flaring brightly
for a few hundreds of millions of years before flashing themselves to oblivion.
God, I love that telescope.
Well, that's it for now Space Fans, see you tomorrow, thank you for watching and, as always,
Keep Looking Up.