Hungarian research achievement to support largest space telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope, to be launched in late 2018, will be examining infrared radiation from distant stars, planetary systems and galaxies. The spectral database, newly created by researchers from the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the ELTE Gothard Astrophysical Observatory, will make it possible to define the physical characteristics and chemical composition of stars.

18 June, 2017

After years of preparation, the James Webb Space Telescope, featuring the largest mirror in the history of space astronomy, will finally start operation in 2018. The instrument, optimised for infrared wavelengths and considered a successor to Hubble, will break new ground in the following research areas:

  • With the highest ever sensitivity, the telescope will make examination possible in the field of stars and galaxies having formed in the first few hundred million years of our universe.
  • The James Webb Space Telescope will be especially suitable for the observation of forming stars, given that infrared light can break through the immense clouds of gas and dust serving as a cradle for stars.
  • The space telescope will provide a fine opportunity to observe planets outside the Solar System (exoplanets), and will even be capable of studying their atmospheres.

The reason why such observations require a space-based telescope is that the atmosphere of the Earth absorbs a significant part of infrared radiation. To have the most precise measurement possible, the space telescope will be put into orbit about the Sun-Earth second Lagrange point (L2). Thus, with minor mid-course corrections, it will be orbiting the Sun on a course roughly parallel to that of the Earth, while a sunshield will ensure that its measures are not perturbed by the infrared radiation of the Sun.

27 June, 2017

Szabolcs Mészáros – currently a scholarship holder in the MTA Premium Post Doctorate Research Program – and József Kovács, both researchers from the ELTE Gothard Astrophysical Observatory, in cooperation with a research group from the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) led by Ralph Bohlin, have compiled a spectral database, which will be of essential help to astronomers working with the telescope. The Hungarian researchers calculated the spectra of the database from models based on well-known data from the Sun.

By comparing the actual spectra of the observed stars to the values in the database, researchers will be able to draw conclusions about the physical and chemical conditions on a given star; thus, an estimate can be obtained regarding the star’s effective temperature, its surface gravity value and its chemical composition compared to the Sun.

In short, the database, created in cooperation with Hungarian researchers, will support astronomers in their effort to achieve the scientific objectives set for the James Webb Space Telescope.