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Astronomers Talk James Webb Telescope Ahead of Historic Launch

Astronomers Talk James Webb Telescope Ahead of Historic Launch

University of Texas at Austin astronomers have recently been featured in several prominent publications in advance of the launch of NASA's largest-ever space telescope, the JWST, which is currently slated for Dec. 24, 2021. Caitlin Casey, associate professor of astronomy, is one of the principal investigators on the COSMOS-Web survey, the largest project scheduled to make use of the JWST. Steve Finkelstein, a professor of astronomy, is also leading projects on the telescope.

The central mirror array of the James Webb Space Telescope. Image courtesy of NASA.

Casey's research is focused on observations of the most extreme star-forming galaxies in the universe, looking at some of the most ancient galaxies, which form hundreds of times more stars than the Milky Way. Her research team is expected to be granted more research hours on JWST than any other current project.

When discussing the capabilities of the JWST to observe ancient galaxies, Casey told Texas Monthly, "We think we have a pretty good idea of how things went in the past ten, eleven billion years, but it's those first few billion years where you start to get really interesting questions that challenge our idea of how physics works. A lot of the big-picture questions are a little bit like a chicken-and-egg problem."

The JWST is one of the most complex scientific instruments in human history, and everything has to go just right for it to work properly. Casey, while reiterating the absolute importance of safety, also spoke with The Atlantic about the nail-biting atmosphere for astronomers awaiting the launch and eager to see it "go, because you know what a powerful tool it'll be."

Additional coverage:

"The Largest Space Telescope in History is About to Blow Our Minds," Vox

"The Telescope That Will Change Astronomy," Air and Space Magazine

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Tuesday, 18 January 2022

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