Your Support

Departmental Colloquium

Chronicles of the Unknown: Webb Science across the Universe into the Solar System  
Guest Speaker
Dr. Stefanie N. Milam  
Guest Affiliation
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Astrochemistry Laboratory  
Thursday, September 30, 2021 3:55 pm - 4:55 pm  
Zoom Meeting  

In late 2021, scientific innovation will take the next step into space exploration and journey. The James Webb Space Telescope (sometimes called JWST or Webb), an orbiting infrared observatory that will complement and extend the discoveries of the Hubble Space Telescope but with longer wavelength coverage and greatly improved sensitivity, will launch into space on an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana. Webb will be the premier observatory of the next decade, serving thousands of astronomers and planetary scientist worldwide. It will study every phase in the history of our Universe, ranging from the first luminous glows after the Big Bang, to the formation of solar systems capable of supporting life on planets like Earth, to the evolution of our own Solar System. The discovery space for small bodies in the Solar System with Webb is unprecedented and will reveal new insights to planetesimal formation, composition, and distribution. Physically characterizing planetesimals throughout the solar system is often challenging via remote observations because of their combination of dark surfaces, extreme distances, and some diagnostic spectral features only distinguishable beyond Earth’s atmosphere. JWST's discoveries for these small bodies are expected to reveal the presence of previously unseen molecular gases and ices, constrain their physical state (e.g., crystalline phase and grain-size), and measure isotopic ratios of volatile elements (H, O, C, N). Additionally, imaging at longer wavelengths can be used to study temperature variations on larger bodies (Parker et al. 2016). In this talk, I will provide a status update of the Webb Telescope, briefly review the main science themes for JWST, and conclude with anticipated science from JWST's exploration of the objects in our Solar System, namely small bodies.