James Webb Space Telescope unveils cosmic secrets, discovers tellurium in rare neutron star merger

Astronomers, aided by space and ground telescopes, including NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, uncover secrets of a brilliant gamma-ray burst and neutron star merger.

| Updated on: Oct 26 2023, 22:05 IST
Aditya -L1 Mission: ISRO’s maiden solar mission heading toward the Sun
NASA's James Webb Telescope
1/5 ISRO's Aditya-L1 mission, launched on September 2, 2023, marks India's inaugural dedicated mission to study the Sun's photosphere, chromosphere, and corona. The spacecraft is now en route to its ultimate destination, the Sun-Earth Lagrange Point 1 (L1).   (ANI)
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2/5 Lagrange points are unique positions in space where the gravitational forces of two massive bodies, in this case, the Sun and Earth, perfectly balance the centripetal force required for a smaller object, like a spacecraft, to remain in sync. These points minimize the need for orbit corrections and fuel consumption, making them ideal for scientific missions. (ANI)
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3/5 Among the five Lagrange points, L1 is especially significant because it is situated between the Sun and Earth, offering a prime location for spacecraft. This positioning enables continuous observation of both primary bodies, unbroken communication with Earth, and an unobstructed view of celestial objects. (ANI)
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4/5 Aditya-L1 will adopt a 'Halo orbit' around L1, situated approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. Halo orbits are three-dimensional paths around a Lagrange Point, providing continuous visibility from Earth, resembling a halo. (ANI)
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5/5 Space missions, such as the International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE-3), the Genesis mission, ESA's LISA Pathfinder, China's Chang'e 5 lunar orbiter, and NASA's Gravity Recovery and Interior Recovery (GRAIL) mission, have previously leveraged the Sun-Earth L1 point to enhance our understanding of space and monitor space weather events. Several operational spacecraft currently occupy this location, playing a crucial role in providing early warnings about adverse space weather events, safeguarding orbiting space assets and ground-based infrastructure. (ANI)
NASA's James Webb Telescope
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NASA's James Webb Telescope, with others, uncovers some secrets of the universe's origins, and detects tellurium in a rare neutron star merger, offering cosmic insights. Pic Credit: NASA (NASA)

A recent study by NASA, involving the observation of an exceptionally bright gamma-ray burst (GRB 230307A) was conducted by a team of scientists using various space and ground-based telescopes, including NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, and Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.

NASA looked to the neutron star merger that generated the explosion responsible for the gamma-ray burst, shedding light on the origins of such events.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope played a crucial role in detecting the presence of the chemical element tellurium in the aftermath of the explosion, helping scientists understand the composition of the kilonova created by the neutron star merger.

The study's lead author, Andrew Levan, highlighted the significance of Webb's contribution in advancing our understanding of how and where elements are formed in the universe.

Neutron star mergers have long been theorized as potential sources for the creation of heavy elements beyond iron, and this study provided strong evidence to support this hypothesis.

The exceptionally rare kilonova events, resulting from neutron star mergers, have proven challenging to observe, but the study's findings provide valuable insights into these events.

GRB 230307A is a remarkable case, as it was detected by Fermi and stood out as the second brightest gamma-ray burst observed in over 50 years, even though it lasted for 200 seconds.

The collaborative effort of multiple telescopes, both in space and on the ground, allowed scientists to gather a wealth of information about this unique event and its rapidly changing characteristics.

The study's findings, made possible by Webb's infrared capabilities, helped identify the neutron stars' location, revealing that they were in a spiral galaxy approximately 120,000 light-years away from the merger site.

The study emphasizes the transformative role of telescopes like Webb and upcoming instruments, such as the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, in enhancing our understanding of the universe by enabling the study of rare events like kilonovae and the elements they produce.

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First Published Date: 26 Oct, 21:45 IST