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 direction away from the sun and can observe more than 100 galaxies at the same time. With him, he is expected to make significant advances for astronomical research. Thus, one of the objectives of the mission is to see the first stars and galaxies that formed after the Big Bang. However, it took 25 years of work, testing and refinement to send the JSWT into space. Among the scientists on the project was Greek astronomer Theodoros Nakos.

Nakos worked for five years as a test scientist for this revolutionary telescope and he will speak specifically about his experience in the development of the James Webb on April 23, during a conference to be held as part of 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 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 thanks to the observations that are made with James Webb in the next decade, our understanding of the universe will improve significantly,” he said.

Additionally, he says his job 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 lab in England that had a vacuum chamber that simulated space conditions, like a temperature of -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 detailed.

Global collaboration in science

Currently, due to the high level required by large scientific projects, they must be carried out 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, as 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 free from current conflicts. Moreover, the war between Russia and Ukraine has strained the permanence of the International Space Station, created by Russia and the United States in 1998. It is a clear example of how the social context, political and economic is a factor in the development of science in the world.

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In this sense, Nakos stressed that science should not have a political color, however, he did 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 human history 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 that are currently under construction in the world will be installed in Chile. About 80% of the people who work in observatories aren’t they 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” , did he declare.

Theodoros Nakos mentioned that different specialties are needed in observatories, civil, electrical or mechanical engineers, Softwaredatabase 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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