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South Carolina professor doing research from a million miles away

The James Webb telescope has been recording data and images from a million miles away. A South Carolina professor was awarded the opportunity to study with it.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — On Christmas Day in 2021, the James Webb space telescope launched into space. The mission of the telescope is to collect data and images of the universe that have never been seen before.

This week, President Joe Biden released the first images from James Webb that showed the universe in a completely new way. The picture collected show the deepest and sharpest infrared images in history.

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Dr. Varsha Kulkarni is a professor at the University of South Carolina. She remembers watching the launch of James Webb and how nervous she was to see if it would work.

"I think we were collectively all holding our breaths to see how things were to go and how even the calibration and alignment and everything would work out...It has really been a moment that has been in the making for decades"

Kulkarni explains the complexity of instruments used on the shuttle-

"The telescope itself is made of 18 segments [that] fold like an origami set...none of this had been tried or tested before. So just too many blocks to get through and it's done beautifully so far."

The images from Webb show countless stars and galaxies from across the universe. These are just in one photo and, according to Dr. Kulkarni, there are even more for humans to discover.

"That is absolutely the beauty of doing astronomy- it makes you realize our place in the universe."

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Kulkarni isn't just a fan of the telescope; in a matter of months, she will be working with the telescope analyzing data. She will work alongside a handful of graduate and undergraduate students studying dust in from space.

"Our goal in both of these programs is try to measure the composition of dust grains and the structure and see how dust in the early stages of the universe compares to what we see nearby in our own galaxy."

She explains that when you look at an image of the Milky Way, our galaxy, there are severely dark parts, these are actually collections of dust that block light from other distant galaxies.

The research could begin as early as late August.

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