I will bring telescopes to the country
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was launched from Guinea on 25 December 2021. This space telescope is 10 times more powerful than its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. NASA released images of the universe as it was some 13 billion years ago taken by JWST on 12 July. Lamia Ashraf Maula, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto's Dunlap Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics, is part of the Canadian research team of the project. She is of Bangladeshi origin. Prothom Alo's Munir Hasan interviewed her in a video conference
You have become a part of history. How does that feel?
I am very excited. We are very lucky, because our team took the first published image taken by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope.
You shared a group photo on social media this morning (12 July). Tell me about that.
We have about 15 members in our team. Eleven of them have come to Canada. Others are working on online platforms. After NASA released the picture, we got together and took the picture on our phones. This was a sudden snapshot.
How did you get involved in the James Webb Telescope Project?
I had the opportunity to work in the Hubble Telescope Project while doing my PhD at Yale University in the United States. That's when I got interested in working at JWST. After completing my PhD, I looked for opportunities to work at JWST and eventually got a chance to work with the Canadian Space Agency team.
Why were you so keen to join the James Webb Telescope project?
JWST is one of the most ambitious projects in the history of space exploration ever. It includes the United States' NASA, the Canadian Space Agency and the European Space Agency (ESA). The cost of the project is about 10 billion US dollars (Tk 950 billion). The telescope is designed to image the first galaxies that formed hundreds of millions of years after the universe began. It is the successor of the Hubble Telescope and is located at a distance of one and a half million kilometres from Earth.
What kind of work do you do in the process of developing these photos or in the research of the James Webb Space Telescope project?
NASA first released a photo of a cluster on 12 July. Our team works on that cluster. Out of the four instruments in JWST, one instrument is made by our team. As a reward for that we got 200 hours of 'guaranteed time' this year. That means for a total of 200 hours this year, we will be able to take pictures with the telescope and analyse them. In total, five pictures will be taken during this period. The image we took contains at least 10,000 galaxies. The picture is of a very small part of the universe. If we can take a picture of the entire sky, we will be able to estimate how many galaxies there are. By analysing that image, we will try to find the first galaxies in the universe.
We have seen some light scatterings in the photo published by NASA. What are those?
The spike-like scatterings are individual stars. These are of our Milky Way. And the scattered orange places are individual galaxies. The white and blue colour spectra are parts of the universe close to us and the red ones are far.
Did you study in Dhaka?
Yes, I went to study to the United States after finishing O levels and A levels from Willes Little Flower School in Dhaka.
How can students of Bangladesh get involved in space research?
First of all, we need to arrange several telescopes in our country. I myself, however, have collected some. I am trying to bring those to the country. However, I don’t know the process of bringing those. I will bring them for the girls, so that our girls can handle them. I think the emphasis should be given on practical learning instead of theoretical studies. We need to grow the habit of researching and learning by ourselves. If we try to understand something in this way, it will get stuck in our brains. Besides, emphasis should be placed on research in universities.