British scientists are preparing to intensify the search for elusive and mysterious dark matter with the help of the new NASA telescope, which is expected to be launched this year.
Scientists from Durham University are among a team of 50 researchers from around the world participating in the Cosmos-Webb program, which will explore a piece of the sky near the constellation Sextans.
They will use NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), the most powerful space telescope ever built, which is scheduled to launch in October and will become the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
Cosmologists will work on mapping dark matter around galaxies, with the goal of discovering the secrets of the mysterious substance that makes up the vast majority of matter in the universe.
Experts believe that as the universe began to expand, galaxies formed and grew as the gas cooled and condensed at the center of huge clusters of this dark matter.
Although scientists have been observing the gravitational effects of dark matter for decades, its true nature remains a mystery.
Professor Richard Massey, a researcher at the Royal Society University of the Institute of Computational Cosmology at Durham University, said: “Dark matter is invisible.
“But in this same part of the sky, we used the Hubble Space Telescope to make the first 3D map of dark matter, noticing how it affects all visible things around us.
“Now JWST will zoom in on individual clusters of dark matter with unprecedented resolution.”
He said that one of the main goals of the program is to follow the relationship between dark matter and galaxies in the past, from the Big Bang almost 14 billion years ago until today.
JWST, which took 15 years to develop, is expected to cost about 10 billion US dollars (7.25 billion pounds), to launch the Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana to the European Space Agency on October 31.
It was named after James Edwin Webb, another NASA administrator.
JWST is the largest space observatory ever built, with a huge 22m by 12m – approximately the size of a tennis court.
Its infrared telescope will observe objects more than 13 billion light-years away.
As it takes a huge amount of time for light to travel through space, JWST will effectively observe objects 13.6 billion years ago, about 100 million years after the Big Bang – when the first stars and galaxies began to form.
After launching into space, JWST will orbit the Sun, flying up to 1.5 million kilometers from Earth.
This destination is a gravitational “sweet spot” known as Lagrange Point, where spacecraft can maintain their position, making relatively few orbital corrections and conserving fuel.