© 2024 WMRA and WEMC
WMRA : More News, Less Noise WEMC: The Valley's Home for Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

JMU astronomer eagerly awaits data from NASA's James Webb Telescope

Anca Constantin

With the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope currently scheduled for Christmas Eve, one JMU professor awaits the data it will produce about the earliest perceivable galaxies. WMRA's Randi B. Hagi reports.

Anca Constantin is an observational astronomer whose research focuses on black holes and their galaxies. 

ANCA CONSTANTIN: So I'm using data from telescopes to try to figure out how galaxies work, and in particular, I'm looking at a certain type of galaxies that have an accreting supermassive black hole in their center.

Accreting means that things are actively rotating around the black hole and falling in. That's what can be seen, rather than the black hole itself. 

CONSTANTIN: And then it's some basic Newtonian physics that's going to allow us to figure out how big or how massive the black hole is, if it's supermassive or not. It's going to allow us to say something about whether that black hole is rotating, how fast, a lot of that stuff.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to find galaxies further away than humans have ever seen before – which, because of the time it takes light from those galaxies to travel to Earth, also means we're looking back in time further than ever before. 

CONSTANTIN: The light is the cosmic messenger … This James Webb Space Telescope is working mostly in infrared, and that means it's peering through a lot of the cosmic veil of gas and dust that the universe is full of, so it's going to see things that Hubble was not able to see. 

The telescope is secured to the Ariane 5 rocket that will launch from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana.

Randi B. Hagi first joined the WMRA team in 2019 as a freelance reporter. Her writing and photography have been featured in The Harrisonburg Citizen, where she previously served as the assistant editor; as well as The Mennonite; Mennonite World Review; and Eastern Mennonite University's Crossroads magazine.