Astronomy with the James Webb Space Telescope

John C. Mather
Senior Project Scientist, James Webb Space Telescope

2267th Meeting Abstract
Friday, March 19, 2010 at 8:15 PM

John C. Mather


The James Webb Space Telescope, named after NASA's Administrator under President Kennedy, will extend the scientific discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope using a gigantic 21-foot deployable mirror. Built by an international partnership led by NASA with major contributions from Europe and Canada, to be launched in 2014 on the European Ariane 5 rocket, and traveling a million miles from Earth to the Sun-Earth Lagrange point L2, the JWST will observe wavelengths from 0.6 to 28 microns. It will see farther back in time, closer to the Big Bang, to learn about the first stars and galaxies, and it will examine cold dust clouds where stars and planets are being born today. With luck, it will tell us about the formation of life-supporting planets like Earth. this lecture will outline the history of the project, the main engineering breakthroughs it required, and the strategy for scientific investigation. Ultimately, the JWST will help answer the questions: How did we get here? Are we alone?

About the Author:

Dr. John C. Mather is a Senior Astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. His research centers on infrared astronomy and cosmology. As an NRC postdoctoral fellow at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (New York City), he led the proposal efforts for the Cosmic Background Explorer (74-76), and came to GSFC to be the Study Scientist (76-88), Project Scientist (88-98), and the Principal Investigator for the Far IR Absolute Spectrophotometer (FIRAS) on COBE. He showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation has a blackbody spectrum within 50 parts per million, confirming the Big Bang theory to extraordinary accuracy. As Senior Project Scientist (95-present) for the James Webb Space Telescope, he leads the science team, and represents scientific interests within the project management. He is the recipient of many awards, including most recently the Nobel Prize in Physics (2006) with George Smoot, for the COBE work.

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