The James Webb telescope

I heard a talk by Richard Ellis a little over a month ago. His specialty is the very early history of the universe, and the new data from the Webb telescope is rewriting that history on almost a daily basis. Ellis is an astronomer and cosmologist who has been involved with the James Web Space Telescope (JWST) from it's earliest concept as the Next Generation Space Telescope in 1996, through interpretation of it's most recent data.

He was on a tour for his new book, When Galaxies Were Born. I am about half way through the book and it is very entertaining. It is his personal story and also the story of observational astronomy over the past century. Prior to his involvement with the NASA telescopes, he was director of the Mt. Palomar observatory and also observed at most of the major telescopes around the world.

My main take away from the talk is that the Web is able to get detailed spectral information from very distant galaxies. Using these spectra, cosmologists can more accurately judge distance in space and in time backwards approaching the big bang. What I found even more amazing, is that that spectral information is like a fingerprint of the elements that make up the those very early galaxies. The composition is unexpected and so far unexplained. So this is very exciting data for cosmologists.
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