The James Webb Space Telescope first began scientific operations in July, with NASA releasing Webb’s first images to raucous applause. What followed, has been a couple of months’ worth of spectacular discoveries, including the detection of carbon dioxide on an exoplanet. Scientists at Harvard and MIT warn that James Webb could have misled astronomers with his data.
The researchers published a new study in Nature Astronomy. They discuss how the current interpretations of James Webb data by astronomers could hinder their ability to determine if a planet can be called habitable. The current model they use to calculate how photos travel through materials isn’t as good as the data James Webb provides.
The researchers outlined the issue in a university press release, saying that the current model can’t differentiate between the percentages of compounds discovered. These discrepancies mean that our translation model isn’t able to achieve the same level of precision as James Webb. This means that atmospheric readings and other James Webb data could be misinterpreted.
Considering how much effort is being put into finding inhabitable exoplanets, not being able to precisely and effectively translate the data that Webb presents is a huge problem. This raises the question: How can we improve the existing model to make it as accurate as James Webb? Researchers say that to achieve this, we must determine the interaction of light and matter.
They believe this would enable us to develop more precise models that could accurately translate James Webb’s data. And with that in mind, we could rest easy knowing that any information gleaned from observing far-off exoplanets was more likely to be scientifically sound and without issue.
James Webb continues to boggle scientists with its data, and not having a correct model to build all of that off of is a real shame. We can only hope that there will be improvements in the future, especially if these scientists are right.
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