Astronomer Theodoros Nakos in Puerto de Ideas: “It is utopian to think that science can be excluded from reality”

On December 25, 2021, the James Webb Space Telescope (JSWT) was launched into space, a space observatory that was developed through the collaboration of twenty countries and jointly built and operated by NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency. The telescope is located 1.5 million kilometers from Earth in the opposite direction to the sun and can observe more than 100 galaxies at the same time, with it it is expected to achieve significant advances for astronomical research, among the objectives of the mission is to see the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang. However, to send the JSWT into space, 25 years of work, tests and improvements were necessary, among the scientists present in the project was the Greek astronomer Theodoros Nakos.

Nakos worked for five years as a test scientist for this groundbreaking telescope and he will speak specifically about his experience developing the James Webb on April 23 at a conference at Puerto de Ideas in Antofagasta.

“The James Webb is the largest and most advanced space telescope in existence, launched into space on Christmas Day 2021. There couldn’t be a better gift for the astronomy community around the world! opportunity to work for this mission between 2006 and 2011, so I want to share my experience and educate the public about James Webb,” said the astronomer The counter.

Theodoros Nakos is currently responsible for the data processing group at the Alma Observatory. He trained as a physicist at the University of Thessaloniki in Greece and did his doctorate in astrophysics at the University of Liège in Belgium. His professional career began as an astronomy researcher and later he became involved in projects related to astronomical instrumentation, including the ALMA Observatory and the James Webb Space Telescope.

The work of astronomer at James Webb

What the James Webb telescope does is replace two others which are the legendary Hubble and Spitzer infrared telescopes. The JSWT has a 6.5-meter-diameter mirror, much larger than the other two, which allows it to capture sharper images and detect fainter objects, Nakos explained.

“The James Webb will address four main themes: the young universe, the formation of the first galaxies, the formation of stars and planetary systems, and the origin of life. I have no doubt that with the observations that have been made with James Webb over the next decade, our understanding of the universe will improve significantly,” he said.

Theodoros Nakos further recounted that his work at the telescope involved performing tests on one of the telescope’s four instruments, the MIRI, name that comes from its acronym in English Mid-InfraRed Instrument or in Spanish medium infrared instrument.

With a team of approximately 40 people, they carried out the full characterization of the instrument by planning and executing tests in a laboratory in England that had a vacuum chamber that simulated space conditions such as -240 degrees Celsius.

“Testing was done 24/7 for weeks or even months. Afterwards, we would analyze the data and write reports, among other tasks. There is nothing obvious when an instrument operates in such extreme conditions!Since the James Webb Space Telescope is positioned one and a half million miles from Earth, once launched into space, there are two possibilities: that the telescope and each of its instruments work correctly or not, there are no intermediate conditions,” he said.

Global collaboration in science

Currently, the high level required by major scientific projects must be achieved in collaboration between different countries or organizations, as in the case of James Webb, where twenty countries collaborated. Nakos claimed that this happens in several scientific fields and not just in astronomy because they require new technologies and therefore a certain level of risk.

“In the case of astronomy, it is not uncommon for 20 to 30 years to elapse between the declaration of interest in the development of a new telescope, and the start of its operations. The case of the ALMA Observatory, which is located in the Atacama Desert, was something similar. However, without great collaborations, great projects cannot be carried out and, therefore, there cannot be jumps in our knowledge,” he explained.

However, this same factor is not exempt from the current conflicts, it is rather that of the war between Russia and Ukraine which has put in tension the permanence of the International Space Station, created by Russia and the United States. United in 1998. example of how the social, political and economic context is a factor in the development of science in the world.

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In this sense, Nakos believes that science should not have a political color, however, he does not deny that it has been one of the factors that have driven technological advances.

“Science as a concept is and should be apolitical. But it is utopian to think that science can be excluded from reality. Unfortunately, war conflicts are part of the history of mankind and, in turn , lead to technological advances given the large amount of resources that are allocated. I hope that similar sums will be allocated to research without military ties! Obviously, our responsibility as scientists is to opt for dialogue and peace , to resolve conflicts,” Nakos said.

Chile: the world capital of astronomy

Regarding his work at the ALMA Observatory in the country, he assured that Chile is the world capital of astronomy and that this context offers great job opportunities related to the field.

“Chile is already the world capital of astronomy. Before the end of the decade, three of the four new mega-telescopes currently under construction in the world will be installed in Chile. About 80% of the people who work in observatories are not astronomers. , more than forging astronomical development in Chile, I would like to convey the message that there will be many job opportunities to get involved in astronomical projects, whatever career you choose,” he said. .

Nakos mentioned that different specialties are needed in observatories, civil, electrical or mechanical engineers, software engineers, database and Big Data experts.

“What yes, the professionals will have to speak English, so with a lot of motivation, studies and desire to participate in entertaining projects and with an excellent working environment, Chilean professionals will be able to live enriching, entertaining experiences and a very promising future work”, underlined the physicist.

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