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How Webb's NIRSpec instrument opened up 200 windows to our origins


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    • By NASA
      6 Min Read Investigating the Origins of the Crab Nebula With NASA’s Webb
      This image by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) and MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) shows different structural details of the Crab Nebula. New data revises our view of this unusual supernova explosion.
      A team of scientists used NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope to parse the composition of the Crab Nebula, a supernova remnant located 6,500 light-years away in the constellation Taurus. With the telescope’s MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) and NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera), the team gathered data that is helping to clarify the Crab Nebula’s history.
      The Crab Nebula is the result of a core-collapse supernova from the death of a massive star. The supernova explosion itself was seen on Earth in 1054 CE and was bright enough to view during the daytime. The much fainter remnant observed today is an expanding shell of gas and dust, and outflowing wind powered by a pulsar, a rapidly spinning and highly magnetized neutron star.
      The Crab Nebula is also highly unusual. Its atypical composition and very low explosion energy previously have been explained by an electron-capture supernova — a rare type of explosion that arises from a star with a less-evolved core made of oxygen, neon, and magnesium, rather than a more typical iron core.
      “Now the Webb data widen the possible interpretations,” said Tea Temim, lead author of the study at Princeton University in New Jersey. “The composition of the gas no longer requires an electron-capture explosion, but could also be explained by a weak iron core-collapse supernova.”
      Image A: Crab Nebula (NIRCam and MIRI)
      This image by NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope’s NIRCam (Near-Infrared Camera) and MIRI (Mid-Infrared Instrument) shows different structural details of the Crab Nebula. The supernova remnant is comprised of several different components, including doubly ionized sulfur (represented in green), warm dust (magenta), and synchrotron emission (blue). Yellow-white mottled filaments within the Crab’s interior represent areas where dust and doubly ionized sulfur coincide. The observations were taken as part of General Observer program 1714. Studying the Present to Understand the Past
      Past research efforts have calculated the total kinetic energy of the explosion based on the quantity and velocities of the present-day ejecta. Astronomers deduced that the nature of the explosion was one of relatively low energy (less than one-tenth that of a normal supernova), and the progenitor star’s mass was in the range of eight to 10 solar masses — teetering on the thin line between stars that experience a violent supernova death and those that do not.
      However, inconsistencies exist between the electron-capture supernova theory and observations of the Crab, particularly the observed rapid motion of the pulsar. In recent years, astronomers have also improved their understanding of iron core-collapse supernovae and now think that this type can also produce low-energy explosions, providing that the stellar mass is adequately low.
      Webb Measurements Reconcile Historic Results
      To lower the level of uncertainty surrounding the Crab’s progenitor star and nature of the explosion, the team led by Temim used Webb’s spectroscopic capabilities to hone in on two areas located within the Crab’s inner filaments.
      Theories predict that because of the different chemical composition of the core in an electron-capture supernova, the nickel to iron (Ni/Fe) abundance ratio should be much higher than the ratio measured in our Sun (which contains these elements from previous generations of stars). Studies in the late 1980s and early 1990s measured the Ni/Fe ratio within the Crab using optical and near-infrared data and noted a high Ni/Fe abundance ratio that seemed to favor the electron-capture supernova scenario.
      The Webb telescope, with its sensitive infrared capabilities, is now advancing Crab Nebula research. The team used MIRI’s spectroscopic abilities to measure the nickel and iron emission lines, resulting in a more reliable estimate of the Ni/Fe abundance ratio. They found that the ratio was still elevated compared to the Sun, but only modestly and much lower in comparison to prior estimates.
      The revised values are consistent with electron-capture, but do not rule out an iron core-collapse explosion from a similarly low-mass star. (Higher-energy explosions from higher-mass stars are expected to produce ratios closer to solar abundances.) Further observational and theoretical work will be needed to distinguish between these two possibilities.
      “At present, the spectral data from Webb covers two small regions of the Crab, so it’s important to study much more of the remnant and identify any spatial variations,” said Martin Laming of the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington and a co-author of the paper. “It would be interesting to see if we could identify emission lines from other elements, like cobalt or germanium.”
      Video: Crab Nebula Deconstructed

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      This video shows the different major components that compose the Crab Nebula as observed by the James Webb Space Telescope. Despite decades of study, this supernova remnant continues to puzzle astronomers as they seek to understand what kind of progenitor star and explosion produced this dynamic environment. Image- NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, Tea Temim (Princeton University) Video- Joseph DePasquale (STScI) Mapping the Crab’s Current State
      Besides pulling spectral data from two small regions of the Crab Nebula’s interior to measure the abundance ratio, the telescope also observed the remnant’s broader environment to understand details of the synchrotron emission and the dust distribution.
      The images and data collected by MIRI enabled the team to isolate the dust emission within the Crab and map it in high resolution for the first time. By mapping the warm dust emission with Webb, and even combining it with the Herschel Space Observatory’s data on cooler dust grains, the team created a well-rounded picture of the dust distribution: The outermost filaments contain relatively warmer dust, while cooler grains are prevalent near the center.
      “Where dust is seen in the Crab is interesting because it differs from other supernova remnants, like Cassiopeia A and Supernova 1987A,” said Nathan Smith of the Steward Observatory at the University of Arizona and a co-author of the paper. “In those objects, the dust is in the very center. In the Crab, the dust is found in the dense filaments of the outer shell. The Crab Nebula lives up to a tradition in astronomy: The nearest, brightest, and best-studied objects tend to be bizarre.”
      These findings have been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
      The observations were taken as part of General Observer program 1714.
      The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s premier space science observatory. Webb is solving mysteries in our solar system, looking beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probing the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and CSA (Canadian Space Agency).
      Downloads
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      View/Download all image products at all resolutions for this article from the Space Telescope Science Institute.
      These findings have been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
      Media Contacts
      Laura Betz – laura.e.betz@nasa.gov, Rob Gutro – rob.gutro@nasa.gov
      NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
      Abigail Major – amajor@stsci.edu / Christine Pulliam – cpulliam@stsci.edu
      Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
      Related Information
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      3D visualization video : “Crab Nebula: The Multiwavelength Structure of a Pulsar Wind Nebula”
      Sonification: Multiwavelength image of the Crab Nebula
      Explore More: Crab Nebula resources from NASA’s Universe of Learning
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      Details
      Last Updated Jun 17, 2024 Editor Stephen Sabia Contact Laura Betz laura.e.betz@nasa.gov Related Terms
      Astrophysics Crab Nebula Goddard Space Flight Center James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Nebulae Neutron Stars Pulsars Science & Research Stars Supernovae The Universe View the full article
    • By NASA
      It is impossible to pinpoint a single, static definition of what makes a “Digital Transformer.” Although Matt Dosberg’s official title is Digital Transformation and IT Innovation Lead for Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), his full contributions to NASA require a lengthier description. He is the nexus for everything under the Digital Transformation (DT) umbrella at GSFC, including digital engineering, AI, data-driven programmatics, data strategy, and more. He serves as liaison to the agency-level DT team and other centers, coordinating across directorates to drive cultural change within the organization, and has sponsored multiple DT events at GSFC, including the center’s first AI Symposium. He strategizes on rolling out proof of concepts and pilots, working toward solutions that address agency-wide barriers to technology readiness and adoption. Dosberg doesn’t just do transformative work—he embodies transformation in an ever-adaptive role.   
      In his three and a half years at NASA, Dosberg has impacted the agency beyond quantitative measures. Of course, his formal accomplishments are extensive, including co-leadership positions for the Goddard AI strategy and Goddard Data Strategy Working Group. He works with the GSFC Chief Technologist to co-fund various initiatives for weaving digital technology into next-generation, mission-enabling solutions. However, his commitment to qualitative, ground-level change, impacting the agency through its culture and people, is demonstrated by how he measures success. “You could look at community adoption and engagement,” he says, highlighting his team’s efforts in hosting events and building community around Digital Transformation. “I’m trying to enable teams and empower people to really achieve the best that they can achieve and help transform how we work here at Goddard.”  
      Dosberg attributes his team-building skills and service-oriented approach to his experience working at the Department of Homeland Security in US Citizenship and Immigration Services. As a program manager, he led the Digital Innovation & Development team, which worked to transform the asylum and refugee program from paper-based to fully digital processing. “I think that really set me up for success here,” says Dosberg. “That technology background and the experience of going through a successful digital transformation, and the cultural change aspect…all those things are kind of principles and success factors that I brought over to Goddard to lead the DT efforts here.”  
      Although Dosberg does not come from explicitly scientific background—he received an undergraduate degree in economics, master’s degree in finance, and MBA—he has always been deeply interested in and curious about technology. In his daily work, he leverages the collaborative capabilities of tools like Microsoft Teams and Mural to aid in brainstorming and soliciting input. When reflecting on the technology he uses to drive transformation within the agency, he highlights his work on DT Catalyst Projects, particularly those aimed at establishing interoperable architecture for managing data. Dosberg sees data as a foundational layer to his work; by developing common tools for accessing, aggregating, and sharing data across the agency, he hopes to strengthen inclusive teaming at an organizational level.  
      Dosberg’s dedication is apparent in how thoughtfully he reflects on his past and present experiences as a Digital Transformer. However, his passion truly shines through when he considers the future of Digital Transformation. “There’s real opportunity to transform and change the way that we are working…Jill [Marlowe] and the DT team have done an incredible job on building momentum, getting folks excited, bringing centers together.”  
      Although it is difficult to distill the many reasons why Dosberg was selected as the first featured Digital Transformer of the Month, this may be a good place to start: “At the end of the day, I’m just super passionate about the work that NASA does,” he says. “The portfolio is truly inspiring and I’m excited to help position the center to take on new projects, be more efficient, and enable the workforce. That motivates me each day.” 
      View the full article
    • By NASA
      Photo of Matt Dosberg
      It is impossible to pinpoint a single, static definition of what makes a “Digital Transformer.” Although Matt Dosberg’s official title is Digital Transformation and IT Innovation Lead for Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC), his full contributions to NASA require a lengthier description. He is the nexus for everything under the Digital Transformation (DT) umbrella at GSFC, including digital engineering, AI, data-driven programmatics, data strategy, and more. He serves as liaison to the agency-level DT team and other centers, coordinating across directorates to drive cultural change within the organization, and has sponsored multiple DT events at GSFC, including the center’s first AI Symposium. He strategizes on rolling out proof of concepts and pilots, working toward solutions that address agency-wide barriers to technology readiness and adoption. Dosberg doesn’t just do transformative work—he embodies transformation in an ever-adaptive role.   
      In his three and a half years at NASA, Dosberg has impacted the agency beyond quantitative measures. Of course, his formal accomplishments are extensive, including co-leadership positions for the Goddard AI strategy, Goddard Data Strategy Working Group, and SPARTA (Smart Projects and Reviews with Transformative Analytics) Project. He works with the GSFC Chief Technologist to co-fund various initiatives for weaving digital technology into next-generation, mission-enabling solutions. However, his commitment to qualitative, ground-level change, impacting the agency through its culture and people, is demonstrated by how he measures success. “You could look at community adoption and engagement,” he says, highlighting his team’s efforts in hosting events and building community around Digital Transformation. “I’m trying to enable teams and empower people to really achieve the best that they can achieve and help transform how we work here at Goddard.”  
      Dosberg attributes his team-building skills and service-oriented approach to his experience working at the Department of Homeland Security in US Citizenship and Immigration Services. As a program manager, he led the Digital Innovation & Development team, which worked to transform the asylum and refugee program from paper-based to fully digital processing. “I think that really set me up for success here,” says Dosberg. “That technology background and the experience of going through a successful digital transformation, and the cultural change aspect…all those things are kind of principles and success factors that I brought over to Goddard to lead the DT efforts here.”  
      Although Dosberg does not come from explicitly scientific background—he received an undergraduate degree in economics, master’s degree in finance, and MBA—he has always been deeply interested in and curious about technology. In his daily work, he leverages the collaborative capabilities of tools like Microsoft Teams and Mural to aid in brainstorming and soliciting input. When reflecting on the technology he uses to drive transformation within the agency, he highlights his work on SPARTA, a DT Catalyst Project that establishes interoperable architecture for managing project reviews and data. Dosberg sees data as a foundational layer to his work; by developing common tools like SPARTA for accessing, aggregating, and sharing data across the agency, he hopes to strengthen inclusive teaming at an organizational level.  
      Dosberg’s dedication is apparent in how thoughtfully he reflects on his past and present experiences as a Digital Transformer. However, his passion truly shines through when he considers the future of Digital Transformation. “There’s real opportunity to transform and change the way that we are working…Jill [Marlowe] and the DT team have done an incredible job on building momentum, getting folks excited, bringing centers together.”  
      Although it is difficult to distill the many reasons why Dosberg was selected as the first featured Digital Transformer of the Month, this may be a good place to start: “At the end of the day, I’m just super passionate about the work that NASA does,” he says. “The portfolio is truly inspiring and I’m excited to help position the center to take on new projects, be more efficient, and enable the workforce. That motivates me each day.” 
      View the full article
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