“Unlocking the Hidden Secrets of the Universe” -Scientists talk about the impact of the James Webb Space Telescope

NASA James Webb Space Telescope

As the James Webb Space Telescope begins its month-long journey to LaGrange Point 2, several of the planet’s leading astronomers have shared their expectations and hopes for this epoch-making event in human history with The Daily Galaxy.

Jackie Faherty, dailygalaxy.com editor, NASA Hubble Fellow and astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History; winner of the 2020 Vera Rubin Early Career Prize and the 2021 Robert H Goddard Award for Scientific Achievement.

“I think JWST is a game changer in astronomy research. We’ve scraped the barrel (metaphorically speaking) on ​​infrared photons despite amazing missions like Spitzer and WISE. JWST will be equivalent to going from getting the last drops of water out of a dataset to get a full faucet turned on for you.There is a world of science in the infrared that we have not yet had access to, and it holds the secrets of planets, brown dwarfs, stars, galaxies and much more. JWST will show us many of the hidden secrets of the universe. “

Erik Gawiser, Astrophysicist, Rutgers University, Analysis Coordinator for the Vera C. Rubin Observatory Legacy Survey of Space and Time (LSST) Dark Energy Science Collaboration (DESC):

“When it comes to JWST, despite the wonderful Christmas present at a successful launch, astrophysicists are still crossing their fingers. During Webb’s month-long journey to L2, there are several important implementation steps left to achieve in the reverse origami process of transforming it into a working telescope.My biggest hope is simply that the telescope and most of its instruments end up working as planned.Once fingers crossed, we can expect great progress from Webb, with completely unexpected discoveries that are likely to be the most effective Webb will have unprecedented capabilities to depict the first galaxies formed after the Big Bang, and to check whether any of these galaxies could have consisted of a single huge star in a short period of time, and this will radically advance our knowledge. about planets orbiting nearby stars.

“By shifting focus from visible to infrared light, Webb will let us apply techniques refined on nearby galaxies to the very distant universe. I am most excited about Webb’s NIRSPEC instrument’s ability to gather spectra of many distant galaxies at once. , which is something that the Hubble Space Telescope cannot.The CEERS Early Release Science program will use this to study how fast galaxies in the early universe form new stars if they have already accumulated enough heavy elements to create planets, and whether they emit sufficient high-energy radiation to cause the reionization of the universe about 500 million years after the Big Bang. “

Heidi Hammel, NASA Interdisciplinary Scientist on James Webb Telescope Project; her focus is on Web’s theme, Planetary Systems and the Origins of Life:

“The most exciting science from Webb will certainly include seeing the light from the very first galaxies formed in the universe. Webb will also study the atmosphere of nearby planets and look for interesting chemical signatures that will tell us if these planets have the potential. And within our own solar system (my scientific program), Webb will study the surface chemistry of cold distant objects like Pluto and dozens of other Kuiper Belt objects beyond Neptune, and so much more! We are incredibly excited that science will begin later this summer, after we have finished preparing the telescope and its equipment for observations. “

Daniel Wood, astrophysicist at the University of Chicago, at the Enrico Fermi Institute and the Kavli Institute for Cosmological Physics:

“I will be very disappointed if JWST only shows us things we expect to see. I very much hope and fully expect that we will see the completely unexpected!”

Lisa Kaltenegger, Director of the Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell and Associate Professor of Astronomy:

“I hope we can glimpse the first signs of life on rocky planets orbiting different stars.”

Gregory Laughlin, astrophysicist at Yale University, author of The five ages of the universe:

Amidst the eloquence and expectations directed at JWST’s efforts in habitable worlds, my ever-contradictory nature is permeated by needle-and-needle anticipation of the important calibration observations (e.g., Program GO 1556) that will characterize the platform. on-sky systematics when exposed to exoplanetary targets. “

[Editor’s Note: the calibration data will be as important as the science data so we can really understand what the basement of understanding will be. Instead of jumping into data on new planets we haven’t seen before, we want to look carefully at data we understand really well so we can fully characterize what the systematics and uncertainties are.  You don’t jump in with your lowest signal to noise faintest targets.  Instead you go after bright high signal objects that you understand super well].

Avi Loeb, astrophysicist and Frank B. Baird, Jr., professor of science at Harvard University::

My hope is that JWST will discover something new about the cosmic dawn that was not foreseen in my two textbooks “When were the first stars formed?” And “The First Galaxies in the Universe”, published a decade ago.

“The nearest habitable exoplanet is illuminated by infrared light from its host dwarf star, Proxima Centauri. If a JWST-like telescope were launched by Proxima-b scientists, they could see its images directly with their infrared eyes.”

Maxwell Moe, dailygalaxy.com editor and astrophysicist and NASA Einstein Fellow at the University of Arizona:

“JWST will transform our understanding of the early universe with high redshift, which was extremely low in metal. Elements such as carbon, oxygen and iron existed only in trace amounts, less than a thousandth of the abundance we see today in nearby stars and galaxies. There is strong evidence that star formation and evolution behave differently at lower metallicities compared to solar abundance, but we can only push the boundaries so far with existing telescopes and datasets. insight into the physical processes that formed the first generations of stars and galaxies. ”

James E. Peebles, Nobel Prize in Physics in 2019 and Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus, at Princeton University:

“I hope we are surprised once again!”

Adam Riess, winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Physics and Bloomberg Distinguished Professor at Johns Hopkins University and the Space Telescope Science Institute.

“I hope it works and exceeds our ‘expectations’ (as codified by The Exposure Time Calculator).”

[Editor’s Note: Given the brightness of an object, the exposure time calculator estimates the time necessary to achieve the targeted signal to noise ratio. It accounts for the throughput of the instrument (how many photons from the object are actually recorded by the instrument) and various sources of noise –sky background, dark current in the detectors if not sufficiently cold].

Avi Shporer, dailygalaxy.com editor and astrophysicist at MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research, former NASA Sagan Fellow at Jet Propulsion Laboratory:

“The Hubble Space Telescope is a household name today. It has revolutionized astronomy with its many discoveries over the last three decades and has inspired a generation of scientists. The James Webb Space Telescope will be just that and more, as it is superior to Hubble in I personally look forward to what JWST will be able to tell us about exoplanets and the composition of their atmospheres.While the Hubble and Spitzer Space Telescopes have observed exoplanets, these telescopes were not built to study exoplanets, simply because they were built before the discovery of exoplanets.JWST is the first large (Great Observatory class) space telescope built with exoplanets in mind, so it was designed to study these alien worlds.

“Keep in mind that even though the launch was successful, JWST is still on its way to its final destination at the 2nd Lagrange point. In addition, the telescope was tightly folded and packed inside the launch vehicle, and over the next few weeks it will have many unfolding steps. , each of which is a single point of error.It’s easy to forget that immediately after Hubble was launched, it suffered from a crippling error in its mirror, which was thankfully corrected a few years later by astronauts.So as you can Imagine there are a lot of people at NASA who have many sleepless nights until the JWST rollout is complete. “

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