According to NASA, the JWST “will be the world’s premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars, and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it.”
The JWST is one of the most anticipated scientific projects of the last several years that is getting close to launch after years of delays. Its extensive and ambitious research program includes the study of galaxies, supernovae, first stars, and even black holes.
“The JWST will allow us to see further back in time, the formation of the first stars, galaxies, black holes, and supernovae. It will help us see into the dusty clouds where stars and planets are being born today. The telescope will be used to work on all the great mysteries of astronomy,” Mather had told Ciencia del Sur during a interview in May, 2017.
We spoke with him again recently, just before wrapping up his work in California, where the last successful tests were carried out to confirm the instrument will be able to withstand extreme conditions in space.
He told Ciencia del Sur he has high expectations for the launch from the Guiana Space Center in South America.
-Has the science of the telescope changed since its design?
Since we started designing the observatory in 1996, we learned that most stars have planets, and that about 20 percent of those stars have planets about the right size and temperature to resemble Earth.
Now, from the TESS observatory we know how to look at planets that pass in front of their stars, and we will study the light that goes through the planetary atmosphere on the way to our telescope.
Also, since 1996, we learned about the cosmic dark energy, which changes our understanding of the history of galaxy formation, star formation, and black hole formation. Those are also important subjects for our observing program.
-What are the main science projects of the JWST?
We are looking at the first luminous objects that formed in the early universe by looking very far away and far back in time. We are looking at how the galaxies grow by seeing how they were different long ago.
We are looking at stars being born inside the beautiful glowing clouds of dust and gas. We are looking at planets around other stars, and planets, asteroids, comets, and moons here in our own solar system to understand how they formed and how it is possible for Earth to support life.
-Who will be able to access the JWST data?
All the data will be public and downloadable from the Space Telescope Science Institute. All scientists everywhere can send observing proposals, and they will be reviewed without knowing who wrote them.
-Can the JWST change our view of the universe?
Yes, I believe many surprises are possible. Astronomy has always been an observational science, and nature’s complexity always exceeds our imagination.
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