The work on technical operations of the observatory has begun as NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope has started moving through the final phases of commissioning its science instruments. As the telescope moves, it will constantly seek distant stars and galaxies and pinpoint them to capture images and spectra with extreme precision. Through this, scientists will also gain more knowledge by observing planets and their satellites, asteroids, and comets in our solar system that move across the background stars of our galaxy.
In a conversation with Heidi Hammel, a Webb interdisciplinary scientist, she revealed some parts of her plans to study Earth’s nearest neighbors. And her statement reads, “I am really excited about Webb’s upcoming first year of science operations. I lead a team of equally excited astronomers eager to begin downloading data. Webb can detect the faint light of the earliest galaxies, but my team will be observing much closer to home. They will use Webb to unravel some of the mysteries that abound in our own solar system. One of the questions I get asked frequently is why we need a powerful telescope like Webb to study our nearby solar system. We, planetary scientists, use telescopes to complement ours in situ missions. One example is how Hubble was used to find the post-Pluto target for the New Horizons mission, Arrokoth. We also use telescopes when we don’t have in situ missions planned—like for the distant ice giants Uranus and Neptune or to make measurements of large populations of objects, such as hundreds of asteroids or Kuiper Belt Objects, since we can only send missions to just a few of these.”
She also discussed her role in this project and revealed that her program uses all of the capabilities of this forefront telescope. Then she talked about her favorite planets, Uranus and Neptune, and said, “I have a soft spot in my heart for Uranus and Neptune. Indeed, the lack of a mission to these very distant worlds got me involved in Webb so many decades ago. The Uranus team hopes to link the chemistry and dynamics of the upper atmosphere to the deeper atmosphere that we have been studying with other facilities over many decades. I’ve spent the past 30 years using the biggest, and best telescopes humanity has ever built to study these ice giants, and we will now add Webb to that list.”
At last, she expressed her gratitude for working with this talented team and gave a humble shoutout to the thousands of people who collectively have enabled this fantastic facility for astrophysics and planetary communities.