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Webb Space Telescope Peers Through Dust For Never-Before-Seen Look At Black Hole

 The James Webb Space Telescope has provided scientists with a never-before-seen glimpse of a faraway black hole, looking through layers of dust to discern the structure and composition of the material around the gigantic monster.

Webb recently targeted its near-infrared spectrometer, or NIRSpec instrument, on the supermassive black hole discovered at the center of the galaxy visible in Webb's picture of Stephan's Quintet, one of the first five full-color Webb photos published by NASA and cooperating agencies on July 12. The picture depicts five galaxies that seem to be in close proximity, yet the fifth is far closer to Earth.

Spectrometers separate light into its component wavelengths; because various materials absorb light at specified wavelengths, the resultant spectrum enables scientists to identify the chemical composition of material emitting light or passing through light. Due to the fact that NIRSpec is an infrared spectrometer, it was able to get a spectrum from the supermassive black despite the stardust obscuring it.

Together, the NIRSpec study of these components enabled scientists to trace the structure of gas moving into the black hole to be eaten, as well as outflows, gas ejected by strong jets of radiation produced by the extreme compression of gas and dust whirling around the black hole.

The outcome is that Webb spotted the supermassive black hole at wavelengths never previously seen, and which correspond to atomic hydrogen, molecular hydrogen, or two hydrogen atoms bonded together, and electrically charged iron ions in the plasma around the black hole, as the European Space Agency detailed in an illustration and a series of messages on Twitter.

Scientists will utilize the NIRSpec to examine not just black holes, but also stars, galaxies, and planets since it is a potent tool for determining the chemical contents and structures of distant objects. A spectrum of the exoplanet Wasp-96b captured using NIRSpec as one of the first five public Webb pictures.

NIRSpec was constructed by a consortium of European firms for ESA, the European Space Agency being one of the three partner agencies that constructed the Webb Telescope together with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. After more than 20 years of research, $10 billion in funding, and months of deployment and calibration, Webb is already doing science on a near-constant basis, and the rate of new discoveries and photos is expected to be unprecedented.

Reference(s): ESA

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