November 29, 2023

Webb Space Telescope Nearly Set to Explore the Solar System

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the next of NASAs Great Observatories; following in the line of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma-ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. JWST combines the qualities of two of its predecessors, observing in infrared light, like Spitzer, with great resolution, like Hubble. Credit: NASA, SkyWorks Digital, Northrop Grumman, STScI
As NASAs James Webb Space Telescope moves through the last phases of commissioning its science instruments, the JWST group has also begun working on technical operations of the observatory. Webb should be able to lock on to these items and track them precisely enough to acquire spectra and images.
Just recently, the Webb team completed the first test to track a moving item. The test verified that Webb might conduct moving target science! As we progress through commissioning, we will check other objects moving at various speeds to validate we can study objects with Webb that move throughout the planetary system.
Today, we asked Heidi Hammel, Webb interdisciplinary researcher for solar system observations, to inform us about her strategies for studying Earths nearby neighbors:

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is the next of NASAs Great Observatories; following in the line of the Hubble Space Telescope, the Compton Gamma-ray Observatory, the Chandra X-ray Observatory, and the Spitzer Space Telescope. As NASAs James Webb Space Telescope moves through the last stages of commissioning its science instruments, the JWST group has likewise started working on technical operations of the observatory.” One of the concerns I get asked regularly is why we need an effective telescope like Webb to study our neighboring solar system.” The Webb group has already used an asteroid within our solar system to run engineering tests of the moving target (MT) ability. Ive spent the past 30 years utilizing the biggest and finest telescopes mankind has actually ever constructed to study these ice giants, and we will now add Webb to that list.

Stefanie Milam, Webb deputy task researcher for planetary science, NASAs Goddard Space Flight Center.
Jonathan Gardner, Webb deputy senior project scientist, NASAs Goddard Space Flight.

Webb can discover the faint light of the earliest galaxies, however my group will be observing much closer to house. They will utilize Webb to unravel some of the secrets that abound in our own solar system.
” One of the questions I get asked often is why we require a powerful telescope like Webb to study our neighboring planetary system. We planetary scientists use telescopes to complement our in situ objectives (missions that we send to fly by, orbit, or arrive at things). One example of this is how Hubble was utilized to discover the post-Pluto target for the New Horizons objective, Arrokoth. We also use telescopes when we do not have in situ objectives prepared– like for the far-off ice giants Uranus and Neptune or to make measurements of big populations of things, such as numerous asteroids or Kuiper Belt Objects (little ice worlds beyond the orbits of Neptune, including Pluto), since we can just send missions to just a few of these.
” The Webb team has currently used an asteroid within our solar system to run engineering tests of the moving target (MT) ability. The engineering group evaluated this capability on a small asteroid in the Main Belt: 6481 Tenzing, called after Tenzing Norgay, the well-known Tibetan mountain guide who was one of the very first people to reach the top of Mount Everest.
Uranus is revealed within the field of view for MIRI spectroscopy. Credit: Keck image and information of Uranus courtesy L. Sromovsky, Leigh Fletcher
” My function with Webb as an Interdisciplinary Scientist implies that my program uses all of the abilities of this forefront telescope! We require all of them to truly understand the solar system (and the universe!).
” Our solar system has much more secrets than my team had time to resolve. Our programs will observe items throughout the solar system: We will image the giant planets and Saturns rings; explore many Kuiper Belt Objects; analyze the atmosphere of Mars; execute detailed research studies of Titan; and a lot more! There are also other teams preparing observations; in its first year, 7% of Webbs time will be concentrated on items within our planetary system.
” One amazing and tough program we plan to do is observe ocean worlds. Theres proof from the Hubble Space Telescope that Jupiters moon Europa has sporadic plumes of water-rich product. We prepare to take high-resolution imagery of Europa to study its surface area and search for plume activity and active geologic processes. If we locate a plume, we will utilize Webbs spectroscopy to analyze the plumes structure.
Simulated spectroscopy arises from the plumes of Europa. This is an example of the data the Webb telescope might return that might recognize the composition of subsurface ocean of this moon. Credit: NASA-GSFC/SVS, Hubble Space Telescope, Stefanie Milam, Geronimo Villanueva
” I have a soft spot in my heart for Uranus and Neptune. Indeed, it was the lack of a mission to these really far-off worlds that got me associated with Webb so numerous decades ago. The Uranus group wants to definitively connect the chemistry and characteristics of the upper atmosphere (detectable with Webb) to the deeper atmosphere that we have actually been studying with other facilities over many decades. Ive spent the previous 30 years using the most significant and finest telescopes humanity has ever built to study these ice giants, and we will now add Webb to that list.
” We have been preparing for Webb observations for over twenty years, which has gone into overdrive now that we are released, released, and focused! Ill note that nearly all of my groups planetary system data will be freely readily available to the broad planetary science neighborhood instantly. I made that option to allow more science discoveries with Webb in future proposals.
” I am gratified to have been able to work with the group for all this time, and I specifically desire to offer a shout out to the thousands of people who collectively have enabled this incredible facility for the astrophysics and planetary neighborhoods. Thank you! Advertisement astra!”
— Heidi Hammel, vice president for science, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA).
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