It’s that time of year again – for the South by Southwest music, film, & tech festival in Austin, Texas. As you might recall from last year, we had the giant full-scale model of the James Webb Space Telescope and a huge tent full of information about the mission.
One of the things that was filmed during Coma Niddy’s visit last week was a special episode of his “SCI CODE” web series. He asked us if there was someone who could tell him the basics about the James Webb Space Telescope (no problem!)… in less than a minute (much harder!). We called upon Dr. Amber Straughn, who wears a lot of hats – Deputy Project Scientist for JWST Science Communications, lead of our Division’s education and public outreach team (a.k.a. our boss), and occasional guest Blueshift contributor, among other things. She nailed this video in just a couple of takes:
For more information about JWST (if you’ve got more than a minute), check out the mission website for tons of background info and multimedia. And stay tuned for more from Coma Niddy!
Nobel Laureate, and James Webb Space Telescope project scientist, John Mather gave an interesting talk (to a packed room) at NASA Goddard recently. It focused on where he grew up and how he got to where he is today. Did you know, for example, that a failed thesis project led to his work on the COBE satellite (for which he won his Nobel Prize in physics)? Or that COBE had to be massively retooled after the loss of the Challenger?
All this and more, below in John’s talk, which he described as”How do you get to Stockholm?”:
The James Webb Space Telescope public website is undergoing an update. We’ve incorporated some new widgets to allow the viewer to explore the content on the website right on the homepage. But we also want to see how easy it is to locate specific information from these widgets.
We’re looking for a handful of people to do some beta-testing for us – if you’re interested, please contact us at email@example.com by Monday, November 25th, 2013. We’ll get our volunteers a few tasks to try on the beta-test site early next week.
For the past couple of years, we’ve run a Halloween costume contest – and we’ve seen some pretty amazingcostumes! We also occasionally get a peek at costumes (in-progress and finished) on Twitter or Facebook… and when the Schoellner family tweeted a shot of their JWST costume, we knew we needed to share! They’ve kindly put together a tutorial for us about how they built it.
Without further ado… take it away, Dirk!
With rockets, space exploration, and alien planets, it’s natural that NASA inspires kids of all ages. Combine that excitement and creativity with Halloween and the possibilities are endless. We start early each year – by September, the kids have ideas of what they would like to be for Halloween, usually inspired by the latest NASA probes to make the news. This year’s costume by our seven year-old was inspired by a visit to NASA Goddard Space Flight Center’s visitor center where he saw an example of the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) hexagonal mirrors.
In general, we’ve found that designing NASA-based costumes out of common household materials adds to the kids’ creativity (and ours), and the JWST costume was no exception. We built the primary mirror array using a trash can lid, as it gave us a nice concave surface to work with.
I’m not sure I’ve yet to meet a person who didn’t find the idea of planets around other stars fascinating. I’m no different. I grew up in an era where the only planets we knew about were the ones in our own solar system. When I went to college to study astronomy, I had Dr. Alex Wolszczan as a professor. He discovered the first ever confirmed extrasolar planets (or exoplanets) – and they were orbiting around a pulsar of all things. Yep, the first solar system found outside our own did not involve a main sequence star like our own. Unexpected to say the least.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt (SSC)
Since then we’ve starting finding scores of exoplanets, and continue to narrow in on smaller and more earth-like planets.
So now the question – why infrared? One of the main uses of the upcoming powerhouse James Webb Space Telescope will be to study the atmospheres of exoplanets, hopefully to find the building blocks of life elsewhere in the universe. But JWST is an infrared telescope. How is this good for studying exoplanets?
We have a guest blogger today! Laura Betz, a writer for the James Webb Space Telescope, wrote this article for us about the student-built 1/6 scale engineering model of JWST that was recently demoed at NASA Goddard.
There are some moments of my life that I will never forget. Watching a car-sized model of one of the most advanced projects NASA is working on – the James Webb Space Telescope – unfolding at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. on Aug. 21, 2013 is one of them. Built like a Transformer and controlled robotically by engineering students from California Polytechnic University in Pomona, the model illustrates how Webb will be deployed one million miles out in space.
Credit: Maggie Masetti
Looking like a giant honeycomb sitting on top of futuristic silver-colored sails, once at its destination, Webb, the largest telescope ever built, will see back in time. Because of the way that light travels, this infrared telescope will be capable of capturing images of the universe from 13.4 billion years in light travel time. Experiencing the model deployment firsthand I was floored by the enormity of it all.
“Webb is the next satellite that will see back to the very early universe, to see the first galaxies that were born after the Big Bang,” said model project member Paul Innes. “Nothing like this has ever been done before.”
To demonstrate the sheer size and complexity of this mission, for the past two and a half years these students have been working with their mentors to build the first physical representation of the Webb deployment. The team thought creatively about how, in twenty minutes, they could represent the different stages of deployment to the general public.
A packed room of audience members at NASA Goddard watched the solar array unfold behind the telescope, the sunshield open up and the 18-segmented mirrors move together to form one complete mirror. To make this happen the student engineers even used parts of car antennas, the inside of a flashlight and garden materials to create the model.
Ever wonder what the job experience is like for women working on NASA’s flagship astronomy mission? Experts will answer questions related to their jobs on the James Webb Space Telescope on Reddit.com on Thursday, Sept. 26 at 2 p.m. EDT.
Reddit, a popular on-line community where users vote on content they find interesting, has many sub-forums. This particular Q&A session will be taking place on the TwoXChromosomes subreddit, which is intended for “thoughtful content – serious or silly – related to gender, and intended for women’s perspectives.”
The following women, with diverse and interesting jobs, will participate:
Allison Barto: Program Manager, previously JWST optical systems engineer (Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp)
If you are a long-time Blueshift reader, you’ll have some idea what the James Webb Space Telescope is, since I write about it not infrequently. JWST is the world’s next-generation space observatory and successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. The most powerful space telescope ever built, JWST will provide images of the first galaxies ever formed, and explore planets around distant stars. It is a joint project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency.
Those interested in asking the above listed women questions about their experiences working on JWST will be able to do so starting at approximately 1 p.m ET on September 26, when the Q&A thread will be posted. They will answer questions for approximately 2 hours, beginning at 2 p.m. ET on the Reddit “TwoXChromosomes” subreddit.
This is the second blog in a series which asks the question, why infrared? Last time we looked at how infrared light could reveal baby stars hidden from visible-light observatories by opaque clouds of gas.
In this blog I’m going to talk about (what else?) the James Webb Space Telescope and why a powerful infrared observatory is key to seeing the first stars and galaxies that formed in the universe. Why would we want to see the first stars and galaxies that formed? Well, the fact is, we haven’t yet! The microwave COBE and WMAP satellites saw the heat signature left by the Big Bang about 380,000 years after it occurred. But at that point there were no stars and galaxies.
In fact the universe was a pretty dark place. After the Big Bang, the universe was like a hot soup of particles (like protons and electrons). When the universe started cooling, the electrons and protons started pairing up and forming into hydrogen atoms – and that allowed light to travel freely for the first time, since it was no longer scattering off free electrons. The universe was no longer dark! But we still don’t really know what the universe’s first light looked like.
The James Webb Space Telescope will be able to see back to about 200 million years after the Big Bang. But why do we need infrared light to see what was going on in the early universe?
As someone who fields a lot of questions about the James Webb Space Telescope, a giant infrared observatory being built right now, I see a lot of “Why infrared?” questions.
There are a lot of answers to this, but here’s one I think is particularly interesting and illustrative of why infrared light is a valuable tool for understanding the universe. And that is – without the use of infrared telescopes it’s really, really hard to see stars being born.
Stars are born inside thick clouds of dust. These clouds, or nebulae, are actually quite pretty. Here’s a really famous image of a beautiful nebula taken by the Hubble Space Telescope that you may recognize:
Pillars of Creation, Credit: NASA, Jeff Hester, and Paul Scowen (Arizona State University)
While this image is spectacular, the problem is – there are stars inside those pillars of dust that Hubble can’t see. And that’s because the visible light being given up by those stars is being obscured by the dust. BUT, what if we used a telescope sensitive to infrared light to look at this nebula?