From the Big Bang to Signs fo Alien Life, with the James Webb and Future Telescopes

Event Dates: 

Wednesday, October 24, 2018 - 10:00am

CTQM Seminar Type: 

  • Related Seminar Series

Speaker Name(s): 

John Mather

Speaker Affiliation(s): 

Goddard Space Flight Center

Abstract, Event Details: 

Host: Jason Glen. Coffee, tea and cookies will be available before regular colloquia beginning at 3:45 p.m. in DUAN G1B31. Abstract: Planned for launch in 2021 on an Ariane 5 from French Guiana, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) will observe at wavelengths from 0.6 to 28 µm with a full suite of imagers, spectrometers, and coronagraphs. JWST will extend the discoveries of the Hubble and Spitzer observatories in all areas from cosmology, galaxies, stars, and exoplanets to our own Solar System. With a 6.5 m primary mirror it has a collecting area 7 times that of Hubble and 50 times that of Spitzer. Inventions were required ranging from deployment and in-flight focusing of its segmented telescope, to greatly improved infrared detectors, to a 6 Kelvin refrigerator for one of the instruments.  I will outline the planned observing program and the major scientific challenges being addressed. What were the first objects that formed in the expanding universe? How do the galaxies grow? How are black holes made, ranging from stellar mass to supermassive, over a billion solar masses, and what is their effect on the neighborhood? How are stars and planetary system formed? What governs the evolution of planetary systems, with the possibility of life? How did the Earth become so special? But the most important discoveries will be those we have not even imagined today.

I will also describe the new telescopes being built on the ground and proposed for space, ranging from far infrared to X-rays.  And now for something completely different, I am developing a radical idea to observe exoplanets with ground-based telescopes and extreme adaptive optics, using an orbiting starshade. Since it does not require a space telescope, it could reveal an Earth twin with signs of life within the next 15 years. Not easy, but not impossible!