Olivier Berné is an astrophysicist for the CNRS (national center for scientific research). With his Toulouse team, he had the privilege of working with James Webb Space Telescope. Launched into space on December 25, this jewel of technology greatly surpasses other devices.
“James Webb is the best research tool available. It combines the strengths of all telescopes in one” explains Olivier Berné, still admiring the power of the device. Work that focused on the Orion Nebula (M42).
The idea of this study was to better understand how stars are formed. “This is a crucial question to better understand the first moments of our solar system.” After five years of upstream work, the researcher finally had access to the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).
James Webb: the best space telescope
“It’s a wonderful device, more powerful than any other telescope I’ve used. It’s great to have been able to use it so freely”. After a few days of observations, the first results arrived last weekend. During the day a publication is made (below).
Comparison with Hubble pic.twitter.com/XfClO876dI
— Olivier Berné (@OliBern) September 12, 2022
The nebula is presented with a level of detail never before achieved. The area photographed by James Webb is as big as a grain of rice in the night sky. However, the telescope manages to detect shades of color, temperature and composition.
“We are still awaiting additional data from James Webb, before drawing any conclusions.” With these new images of the nebula, Olivier Berné hopes to better understand the role of “giant stars” in star nurseries. “They are a point of equilibrium between magnetic, gravitational and thermal forces. Without these stars with very short lifespans, we would not be here and neither would the Sun”.
A huge chance
A very specific subject of study which focuses on a fundamental question: how was the universe we know today formed? A question that has attracted the interest of researchers from the NASA during the selection phase. “To have access to the James Webb telescope you have to request it. Then the file is studied by a jury which evaluates the scientific interest of our research. A long and very demanding process. Initially, 200 letters of intent arrive at NASA headquarters.
In the end, only thirteen projects will be selected. Olivier Berné is therefore one of the very few chosen, a source of pride especially since he is the only French head of study in this selection. “We have an almost filial relationship with this experience. When the first images arrived, everyone rushed to the office to see them.
James Webb: a telescope like no other
The James Webb Space Telescope is a creation of NASA. The US space agency invested 20 years of research and $10 billion to bring the project to fruition. Now operational, the telescope is used for multiple missions.
In addition to Olivier Berné’s experiments on the nature of star nurseries, other researchers are working to find “Terre bis”, exoplanets a few light-years away that would be likely to harbor life. With the resolving power of James Webb they hope to be able to analyze the atmosphere of these planets.