On December 25, the most important and strongest area telescope ever constructed by
The launch represents a major milestone for the project, which began construction back in 2004. After launch, the telescope began a one-month odyssey to its observing perch beyond the moon, an orbital location in space called the second Lagrange point or L2, which is about 1 million miles from Earth. Once there, JWST will complete a six-month process of post-launch commissioning: it will unfold its mirrors, sun-shield, and other systems, and cool down, align, and calibrate.
Beichman, whose primary research focus is planets outside our solar system, or exoplanets, is a member of the science team for one of JWST’s instruments, the Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam). NIRCam will detect light from the earliest stars and galaxies as they are in the process of formation as well as from populations of stars in nearby galaxies; young stars in our
NIRCam is one of four major JWST instruments to observe the sky in various wavelengths. The other three are the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), which will observe the light of distant galaxies, newly forming stars, and faintly visible comets as well as objects in the Kuiper Belt; the Near InfraRed Spectrograph (NIRSpec), which will perform high-resolution spectroscopic observations of 100 cosmic objects simultaneously; and the Fine Guidance Sensor/Near Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (FGS/NIRISS), which will conduct lower-resolution spectroscopic measurements to characterize the light from the universe’s first stars as well as exoplanets. The MIRI instrument was co-developed by JPL and the European Space Agency.
Once the telescope has finished its setup, Caltech researchers are already among those approved to conduct observations. In collaboration with Professor of Astronomy Dimitri Mawet, who is also a JPL research scientist, and Caltech postdoctoral scholar Jorge Llop Sayson, Beichman and an international team of scientists have received approval to observe Alpha Centauri, the closest sun-like star to the earth, and determine if it has a planet orbiting around it—specifically, a gas planet around the size of
Another major goal of the telescope will be to characterize the composition and physical properties of exoplanets. Along with a team led by graduate student Michael Zhang (MS ’18), Caltech Professor of Planetary Science Heather Knutson will use the MIRI instrument to study an ultra-hot planet smaller than the earth whipping around a nearby star in an eight-hour orbit.
Different observers are planning to make use of the MIRI instrument to look at Earth-sized planets within the TRAPPIST-1 system explored by the Spitzer Area Telescope to characterize the atmospheric compositions of doubtless liveable Earth-like planets for the primary time. General, Caltech and JPL COSMOS. Few stars and no clouds of gas in our galaxy block our view of this area; it was famously imaged by Hubble and Spitzer, and follow-up data from the Keck telescopes and other ground-based observatories were obtained, to study how galaxies are influenced by both their fundamental physical properties and the environment that surrounds them—a kind of study of nature and nurture in galactic development.
“JWST is anticipated to develop on that work by offering imaging knowledge at unprecedented spatial decision to review the construction of far-away galaxies and native locations of star formation in them, and to search out and characterize the very first galaxies in our universe from greater than 13.5 billion years prior to now,” says Faisst. “As well as, it’s going to revolutionize our understanding of the universe’s most large galaxies, and particularly reply the query why a few of them have stopped forming stars.”
Beichman emphasizes that JWST is transformative in its capabilities to review a variety of objects close to and much, from these in our photo voltaic system to essentially the most distant elements of the universe. “It would serve the complete astronomical and photo voltaic system communities with unprecedented capabilities,” he says. “In comparison with any earlier telescope, ground- or space-based, JWST has a revolutionary means to take each pictures and spectra at infrared wavelengths.”