Friday, April 19

One PU professors leads team of scientists in studying new space images

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A member of Purdue’s educational staff is directly involved with drawing conclusions from images recently fed back from the James Webb Telescope.

Danny Milisavljevic, an associate professor of Physics and Astronomy at Purdue University, said he got chills and that his stomach had butterflies Tuesday as NASA revealed the first-ever images taken by the massive telescope.

“It was a real emotional experience,” the Canadian astronomer said.

The James Webb Space Telescope was launched from Earth in December of 2021 and has since made its way into the Milky Way galaxy to gather the best images of space that scientists have ever had access to.

“There is such clarity and depth,” Milisavljevic said. “This is the largest, most powerful telescope we’ve seen.”

The telescope, Milisavljevic said, is considerably bigger than the previous NASA Hubble telescope. Whereas the Hubble measured 2.4 meters in size, Webb is 6.5 meters.

“It is the flagship innovation of our generation,” Milisavljevic said.

During an interview with FOX59 News, the Purdue astronomy expert described how the Hubble was not made to handle issues with ultraviolet and optical light. However, the newer Webb is sensitive to longer wavelengths which means better, clearer images.

In addition to being a fan of the telescope, which he said took thousands of scientists and millions of man-hours to design, produce and launch, Milisavljevic is directly involved in the project.

The leader of a group made up of 40 scientists from around the world, Milisavljevic collaborates with others to determine where the telescope should point and what in the pictures should be studied. He said that the images released by the White House and NASA on Monday and Tuesday are already a great start to his project.

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“Today’s images really established Webb as a transformational facility,” Milisavljevic said. “All of the anticipation and waiting has now shown that they did it in a huge way. They delivered on the promise of providing images and data that allows us to investigate the universe in a deeper way than before.”

After analyzing the initial round of images from Webb, Milisavljevic said he is already asking questions he never thought were possible before.

“In some ways, it is as if you have put on a pair of proper prescription eyeglasses,” he said. “Maybe there were hints of this stuff before, but not in this way.”

The first mission of the Webb telescope, to show galaxies and planetary nebula in detail never seen before, is now done, Milisavljevic said. The next step? For his group of him and other scientists to determine where to point the telescope and which astronomical phenomena to study.

Milisavljevic said that he has already received approval to point Webb at a 300-year-old exploded star that his group wants to study. He said that since the star is in the Milky Way galaxy, it will be a lot different than other previously researched star explosions.

“It is so close,” he said. “It’s not like it is on the edge of the universe.”

Milisavljevic added that the Webb could potentially start gathering the images his group has requested of the exploded star in as little as two weeks from Tuesday.

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