James Webb telescope photos capture attention of local astronomy professor

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NASA released the first images from the James Webb telescope earlier this week, giving people a much closer glimpse into what the universe holds.

Samantha Lawler, a professor of astronomy at the University of Regina (U of R), said when she first saw the images, she was speechless.

“My jaw was on the floor,” she said in an interview with CTV Regina’s Cole Davenport. “It was absolutely stunning.”

Lawler, who has a background in observational astronomy, said the first image is just the size of a grain of sand held at arm’s length.

“We’re seeing this tiny little slice of the universe and you can see so much in it. You can see hundreds of galaxies and every single one of those galaxies has billions of stars and billions of planets,” she said.

“It’s just an incredible mind expansion exercise to look at these images and just think about how much possibility there is for something [to be] looking back at us.”

As the James Webb telescope’s capacity to get photos to the public is quicker than any other telescope, Lawler said this means a lot for her field.

“It means we’re going to be able to do more science faster, it means that all of these questions that we’ve had are going to be answered very quickly,” she said. “A lot of astronomy is incremental, there are many small questions that, all added together, are going to add a huge amount to human knowledge.”

This image released by NASA on Tuesday, July 12, 2022, shows the edge of a nearby, young, star-forming region NGC 3324 in the Carina Nebula. Captured in infrared light by the Near-Infrared Camera (NIRCam) on the James Webb Space Telescope, this image reveals previously obscured areas of star birth, according to NASA. (NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI via AP)

The project has been in the works since the early 2000s and Lawler said everyone should be able to enjoy them.

“[Everyone] contributed to this, Canadian scientists and astronomers built two of the cameras on this telescope. It was a huge international effort so when you look at these images, know that they’re you’re images too,” she said.

Lawler got into the astronomy field by her interest in science fiction and said she’s always been interested in understanding what else could be out there.

“That’s the constant question in science fiction. When we’re looking at these galaxies, these little tiny galaxies that are so far away, we’re actually looking back in time, so we’re actually seeing a long time ago in a galaxy far far away, so it really brings it home,” she said.

“It’s really, really quite powerful.”

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