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Webb telescope pierces dust shroud to investigate black hole


The James Webb Space Telescope has given scientists an unprecedented view of a distant black hole, peering through layers of dust to trace the structure and composition of the fabric swirling around the huge object.

Webb recently trained its near infrared spectrometer, or NIRSpec instrument, on the supermassive black hole found at the center of the top-most galaxy seen in Webb’s image of Stephan’s Quintet, one in every of the primary five full-colour Webb images released by Nasa and collaborating agencies on 12 July. The image features five galaxies in apparently close proximity, although the fifth is definitely much closer to Earth.

Spectrometers break light into its constituent wavelengths, and since different elements absorb light at known wavelengths, the resulting spectrum allows scientists to find out the chemical makeup of fabric emanating light, or through light passes. And since NIRSpec is an infrared spectrometer, it was in a position to gather a spectrum from the supermassive black despite its being shrouded in stellar dust.

The result, because the European Space Agency explained in an illustration and series of posts on Twitter, is that Webb viewed the supermassive black hole in wavelengths never observed before, and corresponding to atomic hydrogen, molecular hydrogen, or two hydrogen atoms sure together, and electrically charged iron ions within the gas surrounding the black hole.

An illustration of the chemical composition and structure of a supermassive black hole made possible by the James Webb Space Telescopes near infrared spectrometer instrument


Taken together, the NIRSpec evaluation of those elements allowed scientists to map the structure of gas flowing into the black hole to be consumed, in addition to outflows, gas being thrown away by powerful jets of radiation generated by the extreme compression of gas and mud swirling across the black hole.

NIRSpec is a robust instrument for understanding the chemical constituents and structures of distant objects, and one which scientists will use to check not only black holes, but stars, galaxies and planets. A spectrum of the exoplanet Wasp-96b taken with NIRSpec as one other of the primary five WEbb images released to the general public.

NIRSpec was built by a set of European corporations for ESA, the European Space Agency being one in every of three partner agencies that built the Webb Telescope, which also include Nasa and the Canadian Space Agency. After greater than 20 years of development, $10bn and months of deployment and calibration, Webb is now doing science almost continuously, such that the pace of recent discoveries and pictures is more likely to be faster than anyone has seen before.

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