Stargazing: Lehi museum partners with NASA to teach about Webb telescope images

NASA reveled four new images Tuesday taken by the James Webb Telescope. This image shows the Carina nebula. The Hutchings Museum Institute in Lehi, selected by NASA to be an official Webb events host, held an event on Saturday to celebrate the first images from the telescope, (NASA, ESA, CSA, and STScI)

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LEHI — Recent images from the James Webb Space Telescope spread around the world this week, showing new detailed photos of galaxies and stars that show snapshots from billions of years into the past.

The Hutchings Museum Institute in Lehi, selected by NASA to be an official Webb events host, celebrated on Saturday the first images released from the James Webb Space Telescope, and shared what can be learned through the telescope’s images.

Joshua Lothringer spoke about the photos’ significance and answered questions; he is an assistant physics professor at Utah Valley University and will be the principal investigator for two Webb Space Telescope programs he proposed.

Lothringer said the project for the Webb telescope started about 20 years ago, and it was launched on Christmas morning 2021. Unfolding the mirrors and setting up the camera took a month — Lothringer said the telescope is about the size of a tennis court and had to be collapsed to be sent into space. He said there were many different things that could happen to cause the project to fail — 344 single points of failure — but everything went perfectly.

The telescope is pointed out from earth toward space, and includes a significant solar shield that keeps the side pointing out at about minus 390 degrees, while the side facing the sun is at about 260 degrees Fahrenheit.

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At the presentation, Lothringer compared multiple images taken of the same area by the Hubble Telescope and the Webb Telescope, and explained the Webb Telescope reads infrared wavelengths — one of the reasons it needs to be so cold is so it doesn’t read its own heat. The new telescope also has a mirror made of gold, because gold is good at reflecting red light with long wavelengths.

Because the telescope isn’t looking at visible light, the photos shared by NASA have colors that are interpreted from colors seen in different images from the infrared light.

The infrared photos from Webb include a lot of additional information, including the make-up of galaxies and stars and their distance from the telescope. The telescope has shown galaxies that are so far away that we are looking at what happened over 13.1 billion years ago, some of the first galaxies to follow the Big Bang, Lothringer said.

“Every moment Webb is telling you something … and of course, there’s more to come,” he said.

Joshua Lothringer, a UVU assistant professor, speaks about how the James Webb Space Telescope was launched and unfolded in space at an event at the Hutchings Museum Institute on Saturday. (Photo: Emily Ashcraft, KSL)

The James Webb Space Telescope has enough fuel to keep it orbiting the sun outside of earth’s orbit for about twenty years, and each year scientists can submit proposals to have the telescope study something for them.

Lothringer had two proposals accepted, one studying brown dwarf stars and another to examine exoplanets. He explained information from the telescope is public, but when a specific person does a study that information is private for up to a year to allow them to research before it becomes public.

Anyone can go online to see the schedule of where the telescope will be looking over the next week. Lothringer said it is currently looking at a supernova.

After the presentation, the museum played a live YouTube discussion with NASA scientists looking at the photos.

Daniela Larsen, executive director of Hutchings Museum Institute, said the museum is invested in sharing information about current exploration. She said there is still a lot to discover, both on earth and in space, and the fact that Webb is looking directly at events that happened in the past is interesting for a museum.

“This is a generational moment in the exploration of the universe,” said Larsen. “We are pleased to celebrate this great accomplishment with the community and our friends at NASA as the first detailed images from this marvelous telescope are released to the world.”

She said involvement in space exploration can inspire kids, and it is good for them to have events where they can be engaged and curious. The museum has a NASA summer series with other space-related discussions with the hope of getting kids engaged in bringing a spirit of exploration to Utah.

“These images show the universe as it was millions of years ago and literally allow us to view the past among our solar system, our galaxy, and to distant galaxies from the earliest times of space. This exploration will uncover discoveries that are now unimaginable that will help propel our planet into the future,” Larsen said.

The building that houses the museum was built in 1919 by World War I veterans, but there are plans to add 70,000 square feet to the building, while keeping the historical front, by the year 2026; the city donated some land behind the building to accommodate the growth, Larsen said. She said they plan to continue partnering with NASA and National Geographic to bring interesting new exhibits.

She said the museum is unique because it isn’t a city, state or church museum, and it focuses on local history from many different cultures that have contributed to the state’s history.

This is a generational moment in the exploration of the universe.

–Daniela Larsen, executive director of Hutchings Museum Institute

The Hutchings Museum Institute’s partnership with NASA gives access to continued education training and classroom resources for teachers, and the opportunity for teachers to bring students to the museum. This is part of NASA’s STEM Engagement and Educator Professional Development Collaborative program.

“The STEM engagement program is a great way for teachers to utilize the exciting information, projects, and science gathered through the Webb Telescope and utilized by NASA and other scientists around the world for their classrooms,” said Larsen.


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Emily Ashcraft joined as a reporter in 2021. She covers courts and legal affairs, as well as health, faith and religion news.

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Originally posted 2022-07-17 01:21:18.

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