Webb Update

Jason Kalirai, jkalirai@stsci.edu, Peter Stockman, stockman@stsci.edu, and Massimo Stiavelli, mstiavel@stsci.edu

The Scientific Impact of Webb

The U.S. astronomical community recently completed the Astro 2010 decadal survey. The Astro 2010 report outlines the top research questions for the coming ten years, and presents a vision of the facilities best suited for accomplishing the science. This vision includes huge advances in sensitive, wide-field imaging at optical and infrared wavelengths, as well as the means to characterize new discoveries spectroscopically. Among Astro 2010’s most compelling scientific priorities are (1) searching for the first stars, galaxies, and black holes, which formed when the universe was in its infancy, (2) exploring nearby stars for life-bearing planets like Earth, and (3) testing fundamental physics in cosmic regimes, which could modify scientific principles accepted today.

The full decadal survey report is available at http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12951.

Ten years ago, the 2000 decadal survey gave the James Webb Space Telescope its top priority, and Astro 2010 did not re-rank it. Correspondingly, the Astro 2010 results amply confirm that Webb’s unique capabilities are essential to the freshly framed scientific agenda. Throughout the committee and panel reports, as well as the working documents, the Webb being built today is allied and synergistic with the missions that will be developed tomorrow. Their alliance convincingly addresses the scientific goals.  For example, ALMA will detect dust and gas that is associated with the first bursts of star formation, and Webb imaging will be sensitive to the first light from stars and galaxies at these formation sites.  Similarly, optical and infrared surveys such as with the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope will yield new populations of intermediate- and high-redshift galaxies, systems that will be studied with Webb spectroscopy, to map star formation histories and abundances over cosmic time.