The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will release its first full-color images and spectroscopic data in one week. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency.

Nikole Lewis, associate professor of astronomy and deputy director of the Carl Sagan Institute, is the principal investigator for one of the teams investigating the TRAPPIST-1 system — rocky, Earth-size worlds that orbit an ultra-cool star 41 light-years from Earth.

Lewis says:

“For the entirety of my scientific career, I have thought about – and planned for – the giant leap forward in our understanding of the cosmos that JWST would bring. Seeing these early release observations are like seeing dreams become reality. JWST will do more than take awe-inspiring pictures of the universe around us, it will allow us to determine what stars, galaxies, and planets are made of and the processes that gave rise to them. These first observations highlight the windows into our universe that it has opened, allowing us to see the previously unseen.”

Jonathan Lunine, chair of the department of astronomy and David C. Duncan Professor in Physical Sciences at Cornell University, is the interdisciplinary scientist for astrobiology on the Webb mission and serves on the Science Working Group. His hours on the telescope will be mostly used to look at “hot Jupiters” – gas giant planets that are very close to their stars – and Kuiper Belt objects.

Lunine says:

“The first scientifically calibrated images from JWST will demonstrate the extraordinary optical quality and sensitivity of this observatory – its ability to probe the universe when the galaxies were first forming, and to tease out the faint signatures of atmospheres of planets around other stars. Cornell astronomers were heavily involved in the development of this revolutionary space telescope, and we look forward to doing fantastic science with it in the decade to come.”

Ray Jayawardhana, Dean of Arts and Sciences and Hans A. Bethe Professor of Astronomy at Cornell, is a member of the NIRISS science team targeting 14 exoplanets and co-lead of the ultra-deep search for lowest-mass free-floating brown dwarfs.

Jayawardhana says

“With its unprecedented sensitivity in the infrared, Webb will peer back in time at the earliest galaxies in the farthest reaches of the universe. Closer to home, Webb will take measure of exoplanet atmospheres – do ‘remote sensing’ of worlds that range from scorching hot Jupiters to temperate planets not much bigger than the Earth around stars in the solar neighborhood. 

“I’ve been part of the NIRISS instrument team for 18 years now – I’m sure the discoveries we make with Webb will be worth the long wait.”


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