Is James Webb Space Telescope Lying To Us? MIT, Harvard Scientists Issue Warning

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James Webb Space Telescope is a result of NASA’s 25 years of work and over $10 billion investment. But what if we told you that the space observatory might not be what it seems? Well, a new study from MIT and Harvard claims there could a major error in the models that space scientists are using. This could lead to misinterpretation of exoplanet data.

 
Is The James Webb Space Telescope Lying To Us?

The new study from renowned institutions suggests that the way astronomers are currently interpreting JWST’s data isn’t a foolproof method and it might undermine their ability to determine if an exoplanet is habitable or not. The study has been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

Need For Serious Updates

The researchers concluded in their study that the opacity model, which determines how photons pass through a material, "is not up to par with the precision and quality of data we have from the James Webb telescope," said Prajwal Niraula, a member of the study, in a press release.

Julien de Wit, MIT assistant professor and co-leader of the study, notes JWST’s discrepancies have a “scientifically significant difference between a compound like water being present at 5 percent versus 25 percent, which current models cannot differentiate."

The professor also notes that astronomers are currently relying on Webb data, also used on data collected by the legendary Hubble Space Telescope, which is good at its job. However, to decrypt important data including a planet’s atmosphere more precisely, the system needs some serious upgrades.

"Now that we’re going to the next level with Webb’s precision," Julien de Wit noted, "our translation process will prevent us from catching important subtleties, such as those making the difference between a planet being habitable or not."

How Did Researchers Find Discrepancies?

To issue such a big warning, the team of researchers used eight mocked-up collections of planetary data created to imitate the precision of the telescope’s information to determine how precise its translation of information was.

The researchers learned that the model they built "produced wide-ranging predictions for the properties of a planet’s atmosphere," according to MIT’s announcement. They found that upon reaching its accuracy threshold, it would see no difference between a planet with an atmospheric temperature of 300 Kelvin and a planet that is burning at 600 Kelvin.

"There is so much that could be done if we knew perfectly how light and matter interact," Prajwal Niraula added. "We know that well enough around the Earth’s conditions, but as soon as we move to different types of atmospheres, things change, and that’s a lot of data, with increasing quality, that we risk misinterpreting."

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