As NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope moves through the final stages of commissioning its scientific instruments, we have also begun work on the technical operations of the observatory. As the telescope travels through space, it will constantly find distant stars and galaxies and pinpoint them with pinpoint accuracy to acquire images and spectra. However, we also plan to observe planets and their satellites, asteroids and comets in our solar system, which move through the background stars of our galaxy.
Webb needs to be able to lock onto these objects and track them accurately enough to get images and spectra. The Webb team recently completed the first test to track a moving object. The test verified that Webb could conduct searches on moving targets. As we move forward with the commissioning, we will test other objects moving at different speeds to verify that we can study with Webb moving objects throughout the solar system.
Today we asked Heidi Hammel, Webb Interdisciplinary Scientist for Solar System Observations, to tell us about her plans to study Earth’s nearest neighbors:
“I’m really excited about Webb’s first year of science operations. I’m leading an equally enthusiastic team of astronomers eager to start downloading data. Webb can detect faint light from early galaxies, but my team will observe much more. near my 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 neighboring solar system. We planetary scientists use telescopes to complement our in situ missions (missions that we send out to hover, orbit, or land on objects). An example of this 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, such as for the distant ice giants Uranus and Neptune or to make measurements of large populations of objects, such as hundreds of asteroids or objects in the Kuiper belt (small ice worlds beyond the orbits of Neptune, including Pluto), because we can only send missions to a few of them.
“The Webb team has previously used an asteroid in our solar system to perform engineering tests of the ‘moving target’ (MT) capability. The engineering team tested this capability on a small belt-belt asteroid. main: 6481 Tenzing, named after Tenzing Norgay, the famous Tibetan mountain guide who was one of the first to summit Mount Everest. Bryan Holler of the Space Telescope Science Institute had about 40 asteroids to choose from possible ways to test MT tracking, but, as our team told it, “Since the items were all pretty much identical otherwise, picking the one whose name was tied to success seemed like a no-brainer.” We love that stuff.
“My role with Webb as an ‘interdisciplinary scientist’ means that my program utilizes the full capabilities of this state-of-the-art telescope. We need them all to truly understand the solar system (and the universe).
“Our solar system has many more mysteries than my team has had time to solve. Our programs will observe objects across the solar system: we will image the giant planets and the rings of Saturn; explore numerous Kuiper Belt objects; analyze the atmosphere of Mars; execute detailed studies of Titan; and much more. There are also other teams that plan observations; in his first year, 7% of Webb’s time will be spent on objects in our solar system.
“An exciting and challenging program we plan to do is to observe the ocean worlds. There is evidence from the Hubble Space Telescope that Jupiter’s moon Europa has sporadic plumes of water-rich material. We plan to take images high resolution of Europa to study its surface and research plume activity and active geologic processes If we locate a plume, we will use Webb spectroscopy to analyze the composition of the plume.
“I have a soft spot in my heart for Uranus and Neptune. Indeed, it was the lack of a mission to those very distant worlds that led me to work on Webb so many decades ago. “Uranus hopes to permanently link the chemistry and dynamics of the upper atmosphere (detectable with Webb) to the deeper atmosphere that we have been studying with other facilities for many decades. I have spent the last 30 years using the most the biggest and best telescopes mankind has ever built to study these icy giants, and now we’ll add Webb to that list.
“We have been planning Webb sightings for over twenty years, and it has accelerated now that we are launched, deployed and focused. I will note that almost everyone on my team solar system the data will be immediately available free of charge to the entire planetary scientific community. I made this choice to enable more scientific discoveries with Webb in future proposals.
“I am delighted to have been able to work with the team for all this time, and I would especially like to thank the thousands of people who collectively made this incredible facility possible for astrophysics and planetary communities. Thank you; announcement astra.”
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Quote: The Webb telescope is almost ready to explore the solar system (2022, May 20) retrieved May 20, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-05-webb-telescope-explore-solar.html
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