There is a lot more dust in the universe, than our calculations predict.
This major problem in astronomy, called the “dust budget crisis,” needs to be resolved to better predict the critical role of dust in protecting stars, giving birth to planets, and hosting the fundamental particles of life as we know it.
Researchers hope to finally solve the dust problem with 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 collection of early-stage observations will be Wolf-Rayet dust-producing binary stars to better display the dust’s origin story.
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Webb will be in a better position than many other observatories at viewing this elusive complex. Using infrared light, it can peer through dust clouds, and because of its deep space orbit, it’s far from interfering with light sources that could spoil any calculations about dust abundance.
Webb’s target selection is also key in moving along the Dust Puzzle. Wolf-Rayet stars, which are unusually hot and bright, may be producing massive dust after interacting with companion stars in binary systems.
Astronomers usually detect these stellar interactions through pinwheel patterns, which are generated when two stars orbit each other and the winds blowing on the surfaces of these stars collide in space. However, because Wolf-Rayet stars are so bright, their luminosity overshadows the faint emission of nearby dust.
However, specialized Webb optics will provide unprecedented infrared images. Moreover, Webb has a higher resolution than NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope, which has also been observed from space in the infrared.
Long infrared wavelengths of light are not only prized for their ability to peer through dust, but can also provide a spectrum of elements in dust clouds. Some of these chemicals may be crucial to the building blocks of life, allowing us to hint at how dust spreads organic molecules across the universe.
Ryan Lau, a fellow at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), said in a 2020 statement (Opens in a new tab) From the Webb Consortium.
Lau’s team will examine two Wolf-Rayet binary systems using two instruments on Webb: the mid-infrared imaging instrument (MIRI) and the near-infrared imaging and slit spectroscopy (NIRISS).
WR 140 will be subject to examination, a well-studied star system that will serve as a baseline to ensure that Webb’s observations are performing as expected. Also on the list is WR 137, whose stars will come close together early in the Webb mission in a potential dust-generating event.
Lau’s investigation will be one of a set of early release scientific observations that Webb made, during the first five months of regular telescope operations. In addition to being an investigation of our dusty origin story, Wolf-Rayet’s observations will also help Webb astronomers test Webb’s dynamic range, or the difference between the brightest and faintest objects he can observe.
Scope learning “will be useful to the astronomy community in many ways in the future, for example, in studying the dusty disk surrounding the bright center of an active galaxy, or finding a planet orbiting a bright star,” Mansi Casliwal, an astronomer at Caltech on the science team For an early release, in the same statement.
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