Student shows James Webb Space Telescope will be able to observe afterglows from earliest gamma-ray bursts

May 15, 2014
Artist's concept of the James Webb Space Telescope in orbit. Credit: NASA

A 25-year-old PhD student from Perth, Australia, has had his research recognized by NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute for its contribution to their upcoming James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), to be launched in 2018.

Damien Macpherson, from The University of Western Australia node of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR), has shown that astronomers could observe the earliest in the universe for the first time when they explode as a so-called gamma-ray burst, producing an afterglow of light that could be detected by the JWST.

"We found that the JWST will be able to observe these gamma-ray burst afterglows for at least 55 days after the initial bright flash has died down, something that's really good news for NASA and the telescope," Macpherson said. Gamma-ray bursts from the first stars should be the brightest objects in the entire Universe, only lasting a matter of seconds, but sending out as much energy in that time as the Sun will in its entire life.

But there's a catch...

"Because the first stars in the universe are so incredibly distant, the gamma-ray burst afterglows are not visible by even the best ground based telescopes," Macpherson said.

In 2018, NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency will launch the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit. It will have a mirror area approximately seven times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope, making it able to see further into space and detect fainter objects.

"Our work predicts that the James Webb Space Telescope will have a chance of seeing the first afterglow from the earliest stars in the within five years of its launch," Macpherson said.

NASA's Space Telescope Science Institute invited Macpherson to present his research as part of their JWST science highlights, a collection of published astronomy research related to the telescope.

Explore further: Square Kilometre Array will see sky bubbling with exploding stars

More information: Paper: Macpherson, D.; Coward, D. M.; Zadnik, M. G. "The Potential for Detecting Gamma-Ray Burst Afterglows from Population III Stars with the Next Generation of Infrared Telescopes," 2013, The Astrophysical Journal, Volume 779, Issue 1, article id. 73: dx.doi.org/10.1088/0004-637X/779/1/73 , On Arxiv: arxiv.org/abs/1310.4940

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

James Webb Space telescope passes a mission milestone

Jan 24, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's James Webb Space Telescope has passed its first significant mission milestone for 2014—a Spacecraft Critical Design Review (SCDR) that examined the telescope's power, communications ...

Scientists assemble new space telescope

Mar 11, 2014

Scientists and engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center have begun to assemble and test the James Webb Space Telescope in advance of its 2018 debut.

Birth of black hole kills the radio star

Dec 20, 2013

Astronomers led by a Curtin University researcher have discovered a new population of exploding stars that "switch off" their radio transmissions before collapsing into a Black Hole.

Hubble monitors supernova in nearby galaxy M82

Feb 26, 2014

This is a Hubble Space Telescope composite image of a supernova explosion designated SN 2014J in the galaxy M82. At a distance of approximately 11.5 million light-years from Earth it is the closest supernova ...

Recommended for you

Mysteries of space dust revealed

14 hours ago

The first analysis of space dust collected by a special collector onboard NASA's Stardust mission and sent back to Earth for study in 2006 suggests the tiny specks open a door to studying the origins of the ...

A guide to the 2014 Neptune opposition season

19 hours ago

Never seen Neptune? Now is a good time to try, as the outermost ice giant world reaches opposition this weekend at 14:00 Universal Time (UT) or 10:00 AM EDT on Friday, August 29th. This means that the distant ...

Informing NASA's Asteroid Initiative: A citizen forum

Aug 28, 2014

In its history, the Earth has been repeatedly struck by asteroids, large chunks of rock from space that can cause considerable damage in a collision. Can we—or should we—try to protect Earth from potentially ...

Image: Rosetta's comet looms

Aug 28, 2014

Wow! Rosetta is getting ever-closer to its target comet by the day. This navigation camera shot from Aug. 23 shows that the spacecraft is so close to Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko that it's difficult to ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Bob Osaka
not rated yet May 16, 2014
Cheers Damien congratulations, only nine more years.