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Opening the Infrared Treasure Chest with JWST

John C. Mather (2006 Nobel laureate in Physics), NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Wednesday, May 8, 2024 - 7:30pm
Kane Hall 130
John C. Mather, Frontier Physics Lecture Series

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The James Webb Space Telescope was launched on Dec. 25, 2021, and commissioning was completed in early July 2022. With its 6.5 m golden eye, and cameras and spectrometers covering 0.6 to 28 µm, Webb is already producing magnificent images and surprises about galaxies, active galactic nuclei, star-forming regions, and planets. It extends the scientific discoveries of the great Hubble, and ties the most distant galaxies to their origin story from the fluctuations of the cosmic microwave background radiation. Scientists are hunting for some of the first objects that formed after the Big Bang, the first black holes (primordial or formed in galaxies), and beginning to observe the growth of galaxies, the formation of stars and planetary systems, individual exoplanets through coronography and transit spectroscopy, and all objects in the Solar System from Mars on out. It could observe a 1 cm2 bumblebee at the Earth-Moon distance, in reflected sunlight and thermal emission. I will show how we built the Webb, why we study infrared, and the most exciting current discoveries. Webb is a joint project of NASA with the European and Canadian space agencies.

Dr. John C. Mather is a Senior Astrophysicist and was the Senior Project Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Since the project start in 1995 until 2023, he led the JWST science teams. As a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies 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.  With the COBE team, he showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation has a blackbody spectrum within 50 parts per million, confirming the expanding universe model to extraordinary accuracy. The COBE team also made the first map of the hot and cold spots in the background radiation (anisotropy), the spots which nucleated the formation of galaxies. Dr. Mather received the Nobel Prize in Physics (2006) with George Smoot, for the COBE work.

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