James Webb Space Telescope, NASA, European Space Agency, Telescope : Looking Back to Understand our Future

I am aaron dworkin, and this is artful science. Music, thanks again for joining me here on artful science, todays show is jwst. Looking back to understand our future and im going to explain that in just a second and our guest is maggie masetti, who serves as social media, lead and website manager for the james webb space telescope mission at nasa. Maggie. Welcome to the show, thanks for having me uh, so its so great that youre here and of course, jwst stands for the james webb space telescope uh. So i think first of all lets just you know, get some context of of all of this and i always like to know when things are named after people who, who was james webb and seems like hes, pretty important to nasa sure so um, just as an Intro to the mission itself, james bob space telescope is really a successor to the hubble space telescope. A lot of times, youll see online that were replacing hubble but were not really a successor to the science that hubble uh, discovered and hubble will keep discovering, because um hubble is primarily optical light with a little bit of infrared and a little bit of ultraviolet and Web is mostly infrared, so theyre very compatible, and they see slightly different things so going forward. We have you know 30 years of hubble data on the archive, plus its still up there, making observations and scientists will be able to use both the data from web hubble and other telescopes as well to get a broader picture of the universe.

So webb was actually named after james webb. Obviously he was a apollo era, administrator of nasa its a little bit rare for a mission to be named after an administrator, but essentially he was the one that thought early. Nasa should have a science research program. Gotcha awesome awesome and its interesting, because you have seen in these. You know giant institutions um like nasa that its its amazing, because individuals can end up having really such an impact and especially even after their time of leadership. We see the ripple effects of those, and so i always love that just learning about that that kind of leadership, aspect of people and how that forwards, things, and especially forward science. So you mentioned kind of just some of these things that are different, but you you went through that pretty quickly about lenses and stuff, so kind of taking from an arts perspective um. What would you say kind of most defines how jwst is is is different. How is it going to kind of maybe redefine what we can see out there versus say hubble, as you mentioned, which of course many of us know about sure so, um the reason they decided they needed web is that in astronomy, every 10 years theres something called A decadal survey and they look at you know what are the big questions that we want answered next and obviously hubble is so powerful and it created new questions for us to answer.

So there are new questions, so one of the things that weve never really investigated is in the early universe. When did the stars? The first stars and galaxies form weve, seen weve seen about a couple hundred thousand years after the big bang missions, like kobe, that looked at the early microwave background in the universe, but somewhere around 100 million to 250 million years after the big bang stars and galaxies Started forming we dont know exactly when we dont know how but weve never been able to see that period of the universes history and thats, because, thanks to the expansion of the universe, the light from those things are red shifted slightly. So an optical telescope like hubble a, is not powerful enough to see back that far, but its also not able to see the infrared light from those first stars and galaxies. So they decided a giant infrared space. Telescope will help us see those first stars and galaxies forming in the early universe, so that was probably like the earliest primary reason to build web, though um, interestingly, in in the years of development of this telescope, exoplanets became a thing planets orbiting around stars that are Not our sun um its a relatively new field of astronomy, and they realize that the instruments on the web would allow them to explore the atmospheres of some of these exoplanets, which is really exciting. So uh. There are missions like kepler and tess that are sort of planet finders, but well actually be able to really zero in on a specific um planet candidate, and we can actually analyze the atmosphere and tell what the atmosphere is made of, and so let me just get This straight because that seems just so fascinating that that jwst will be able to look at a specific exoplanet rock rolling around a distant star and be able to study the atmosphere of that planet.

Yes, just from that little dot of light, its so powerful that that dot will tell it what it needs to know, so it can analyze it and see what molecules or elements are present. The the goal obviously would be amazing to find you know a planet that had an atmosphere similar to earths. Of course absolutely, and do you think this is a little bit of a side note that if we say determined there was that type of atmosphere do we have kind of a scientific basis to then infer the presence of water on that planet as well? If we know its atmosphere, uh water im, not an exoplanet scientist, so i cant answer precisely, but i mean they can definitely determine uh water in the atmosphere, whether that would translate to water in the ground. Its not really my favorite field of expertise right, no, its just truly fascinating and so kind of going separate from the exoplanets as its looking out right in this idea that basically hubble could not look out as far and also right. Cant look out as fast because the universe is expanding so fast that the things that are distant are getting more distance so quickly right that we kind of cant potentially see them, will what is the ultimate distance, or how far will we be able to see with Jwst uh over 13.5 uh billion years, yeah, so um, you know, and just to give us some context of what that means.

So a lot of people uh find the concept confusing of like looking looking back uh, you know think about the sun. Is that takes eight minutes for light to travel from the sun to us? So we are actually when you look up in the sky youre, seeing the sun as it was eight minutes ago, and if you look at the light from the nearest star to us that light left four plus years ago. So you know, as you look at things that are further and further away from us, that light takes a lot of time to travel to us, so were seeing them as they were so thats. The basic idea is that those earliest stars and galaxies, the ones that are really far away from us. We are only now getting their light when it left them over 13 and a half billion years ago, so thats how its possible to sort of look back in time by looking at things that are far away from us, yeah its just its truly amazing science and Ultimately, you know when we have this information. Is there the you know there are people either you know in political positions, or you know some artists who are like okay. Well, this is kind of fascinating, but how will it affect my daily life kind of thing right? So say we are able to really achieve and – and we are able to see and understand these things from over 13 billion years ago – is there a sense of of that benefit? How that translates for us as society? How will we benefit from this information? Sure so um, i think, even closer to home, is that when we develop these nasa missions, technology spin offs result.

So you know i i often see comments about like well. How does mars affect me but its like, but if they can learn more about growing crops more effectively at home because of the research they did, then then that benefits us for for web specifically um. They actually uh have a new technique for laser eye surgery that resulted from some of the testing that was done uh to develop the mirrors for web. So there already have been benefits here on earth, which is great web. Besides, seeing the very furthest things that, for this bright objects that form in the early universe, we can actually see things closer by too well study our own solar system as well. We cant actually look towards the sun. We have this giant tennis court size, sun shield that protects the very sensitive mirrors and instruments. As you imagine, infrared light is heat, so we have to keep anything thats hot away from the mirror, so it can detect those faint heat signals from far away so um. It has to be oriented at all times with that sunshield blocking the light and heat of earth, sun and moon, but it can see outwards so well, be able to look at the solar system from mars on out. We can see asteroids other small objects in the solar system, so well be able to do follow on work to cassini and new horizons, and you know understanding planets in our solar system.

Planets and other solar systems will help us learn more about our planet awesome. So this really is vital information and its amazing who will have access to it. Will it just kind of be the scientists running it or who will be able to see and and learn from, and you know kind of experiment with this imagery i mean really everyone most space telescopes are fairly egalitarian and that they have um times where you can Submit proposals, so you can say i want to look at x. I want y amount of time and you write up your justification and you submit it and then they have peer reviews where theyll go through blind. Usually these uh these submissions and they decide whats worthy of time on whatever space telescope people are applying for so you know in in theory, anyone could get time on it it it helps if you know what youre doing, because obviously time is at a premium for These telescopes, but hubble works. This way web will also work. This way they actually already had the um proposal submissions. So the first round of observations are already planned, um and about six months after launch, because we have to cool down to our operating temperature and we have to calibrate the mirrors and instruments. Well start routine science operations and all that is already lined up. And then you know the the results of some of those things will be announced. Just like you see, hubble images on you know: nasas social media and websites itll be the same for web and then all that data is actually stored in an archive, so at space telescope science institute theres a whole archive of hubble data.

So if youre, a scientist, whos studying a particular exoplanet or you know whatever object it is, you can actually go into the archive of hubble data and look for observations, past observations of your object and download data that might be useful to you in your current research. So web data will also be stored in the same archive that the hubble data is stored in so anyone really can access that data. Youd have to know. You know how to use the software to analyze the data, but in theory anyone can access it. Its yeah. No, its really amazing – and i think, and that allows us to kind of have this collective moving forward of of developing our knowledge, rather than just these separate individual pockets, um and – and so you reference six months after launch. When is it proposed to launch so uh? We are actually still working with issa and arianes boss on our launch date, its an international mission, so our partners are the canadian space agency and the european space agency and part of esas contribution to the mission is the launch site and the launch vehicle. So because its there theyre, you know part of the mission. They are the ones who determine that theres, one more aryan five launch before hours, so that needs to be scheduled and then theyll schedule us nasas, been holding to an october 31st launch readiness date, which means that well be ready to launch no sooner than october 31st.

Um – and so i think, youll probably be here soon from issa on on an actual launch date, but thats sort of their curve, so so exciting, so unfortunately were just about out of time. But i always like to ask of all my guests. You know theyre steeped in all of this work and in science um, and here we are at this intersection of the arts and sciences. Do you have any either artistic practice? You do yourself or interests that you have yeah so im a musician, mostly um. My mother is watercolors, but ive music is really where my artistic talent has has lay um im in a band called naked singularity, which is an astronomy reference with some friends from work. Oh, its awesome, thats, so cool yours, but but yeah so and you can see behind me some art uh, that artist contributed to an event. We did a couple years ago, so im a really big believer in art, plus science. That is truly truly awesome, so excited to hear that maggie masetti, thank you for helping us gain knowledge through the lens of creativity here on artful science.

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