The images are ground-breaking in the level of detail they provide for astronomers who want to study TRAPPIST and unlock its secrets. It also points to raising the bar for how stars are studied in general. Given the scientific significance, perhaps even more shocking is that these images were created by a Redditor.
What does the picture show – The TRAPPIST-1 image is embossed and does not reveal much detail to the untrained eye. Webb’s NIRISS instrument (near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph) spotted TRAPPIST-1 on July 18. In the end, this image was combined with observations made during a quick setup shot with the NIRISS instrument to ensure the telescope is properly pointed and calibrated.
At the time, one of the seven Earth-sized TRAPPIST planets was thought to pass in front of the star, at least according to a Reddit thread (inverse tries to confirm these details). The alleged image launcher, TRAPPIST-1b, is not in the star’s habitable zone. It orbits too close to the red dwarf to allow life to have a chance on its surface. But a peek at the composition of its atmosphere would still be a huge step forward for exoplanet science.
hidden details – Perhaps the real excitement is hidden in the bright white, yellow and orange whisper, the light from TRAPPIST-1.
The light in this image has been broken down into the different individual wavelengths that compose it. Because each chemical element radiates and absorbs different wavelengths of light, scientists can use the spectrum of light from an object to understand what it is made of.
When inverse To confirm the images, a spokesperson for the Space Telescope Science Institute relayed that the image and spectrum “look as you’d expect” of the processed NIRISS data.
So how did the Redditor get the data to create these amazing photos? Let’s dig.
How are the pictures made? Here’s the story: The data from which the new images were formed is Webb Telescope data collected on July 18. But the images are from the work of a Redditor who uses u/arizonaskies2022. (inverse Tried contacting the Redditor through the platform for this story but got no response.)
This citizen scientist has done the hard work of processing publicly available Webb data. They then posted the photo to r/jameswebb’s Reddit forum on July 20.
“Both images are public raw data files that I found and downloaded from the MAST site,” u/arizonaskies2022 writes in a comment to the Reddit post.
“I did a little manipulation. Neither image was cropped, just a little stretch and color.”
Webb’s NIRISS instrument (near InfraRed Imager and Slitless Spectrograph) spotted TRAPPIST-1 on Monday.
A spokesperson for the Space Telescope Science Institute said: “The data was published immediately.” inverse.
The Space Telescope Science Institute operates both the Web and Hubble telescopes, and most raw data from telescope instruments is publicly available online. If someone has the right software and enough knowledge to convert data into images or spectra, they can. The institute even hosts webinars to teach people how to do this type of treatment.
There are a few exceptions to this rule; The scientists who helped design Webb’s tools got a few months of exclusive access to the data from their own observations.
What’s next for Webb – For all the TRAPPIST-1 fans out there, know that this isn’t the last we’ll see at this stellar exoplanet haven.
TRAPPIST-1 is a small, cool star (both in terms of temperature and in terms of being interesting) about 40 light-years from Earth. It is host to seven rocky planets the size of our own, and three of them are in the habitable zone – the region around a star where temperatures are just right for liquid water to exist on a planet’s surface.
Because it is so close, and because it features many Earth-like worlds in its habitable zone, the TRAPPIST-1 system is one of the hottest regions in the galaxy to search for possible life, or at least possible alien worlds.
If TRAPPIST-1b passed in front of the star during Webb’s observations on July 18, some of the star’s light may have filtered through the atmosphere of an exoplanet. By comparing the spectrum of TRAPPIST-1 before, during, and after transiting the planet, astronomers can draw some conclusions about the composition of TRAPPIST-1b’s atmosphere.
More to come: The Webb Telescope has already observed TRAPPIST-1 at least twice in its two weeks of science operations. We can’t wait.