Frontier Science Opportunities with James Webb Space Telescope

Conference Report

Wendy Freedman, wendy@obs.carnegiescience.edu and Jason Kalirai, jkalirai@stsci.edu

PosterThe Space Telescope Science Institute hosted the “Frontier Science Opportunities with JWST” meeting on June 6–8, 2011. The meeting brought together nearly 200 astronomers from around the world, including many students and postdoctoral researchers. The goal of the meeting was to critically review the science potential of JWST.  The meeting also provided an opportunity to educate the next generation of astronomers about the role that JWST is expected to play in addressing the top science questions outlined by Astro2010, the recent decadal survey of astronomy and astrophysics.

The three-day meeting on JWST was a mix of invited and contributed talks spanning virtually every aspect of modern astronomical research.  Limitations on the length of presentations ensured that more than one-third of the meeting was devoted to discussions between the audience and the speakers.  As a result, most talks were followed by in-depth analyses of how specific science topics could be addressed by JWST.  In addition, these discussions identified a variety of implicit support requirements for the JWST science program, such as the need for pipeline scripts to efficiently reduce spectroscopic data obtained by an integral field unit and multi-object spectrograph, software tools to analyze coronagraphic observations, and steps that might be taken to ensure the availability of the multispectral observations, from short to long wavelengths, that will be needed to provide context and identifications for JWST observations.

The range of science presented at the Frontiers meeting provided dramatic illustrations of the unique role that JWST will play across the frontiers of astronomy, from studying of our Solar System neighbors to probing the distant beginnings of time. Spectroscopic observations of Neptune and Uranus using the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), to take atmospheric temperatures and shed light on cloud dynamics, might be followed in the observing schedule by deep searches for the first cosmic explosions, at the edge of the observable universe.  The audience heard about new models that predict the blast profiles and light curves of core-collapsed and pair-instability supernovae, which suggest that JWST would capture a predicted late-time rise of the radiation as the fireball expands and cools over a span of greater than 300 days. If, as hoped, 25-meter class telescopes are operational in the JWST era, they will undoubtedly be used together. For example, imaging with JWST and spectroscopy from ground-based telescopes, which could observe diagnostic spectral lines of supernovae at an early stage, will help distinguish between different progenitor classes.