JWST Flagship

Jason Kalirai, jkalirai@stsci.edu

Astronomical research progresses along various avenues, including ground-based and space-based observations, archival data analysis, and theoretical calculations.  This variety of methods provides astronomers with diverse tools to perform science, which often leads to synergistic combinations that are uniquely configured to answer tough questions.  In this context, NASA’s flagship missions, such as the Hubble Space Telescope, represent one of the most important components of the astrophysics portfolio.  Flagship missions have a special ability to characterize astrophysical objects by pushing the boundaries of a photon-limited science. The advantages of a flagship mission are stable, high-resolution, and ultra-deep observations, both in imaging and in spectroscopy.  Missions like NASA’s Great Observatories go a step further, beyond the hardware, to ensure the intellectual follow-through of the research. They match the investment in hardware with grants to individual astronomers, who perform the observational, computational, and theoretical investigations that produce the science payoff.  In fact, research funding tied to the Great Observatories accounts for 40% of all NASA research funding through grants per year.  This supports many hundreds of awards each year to U.S. astronomers, including postdoctoral researchers, and PhD students.

JWST is the immediate future of NASA’s flagship missions.  In its near- and mid-infrared wavelength domain, JWST is orders of magnitude more powerful than the Hubble and Spitzer Space TelescopesJWST will provide the same synergy to the Astro2010 priorities—Large Synoptic Survey Telescope and Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope that Hubble and Spitzer currently provide to Keck, Gemini, and the Very Large Telescope.


What can JWST do for me?

To help the astronomical community answer this basic question for themselves, the Institute has released prototype JWST exposure time calculators (ETCs). They support the four JWST primary instruments, which span the wavelength range 0.6–28.3 microns and offer multiple imaging and spectroscopic modes. We expect the new ETCs will help potential users realize JWST’s power for revolutionary observations, not only on JWST’s iconic science themes, but also on the broad frontiers of planetary, stellar, and galactic astronomy. Indeed, in just the first 30 days after the release of the ETCs, the community used them for almost 2,000 calculations.

Figure 1For further discussion of JWST’s science impact, see the accompanying article “Frontier Science Opportunities with JWST,” elsewhere in this Newsletter.

In addition to the ETCs, we have focused on understanding the execution of JWST science programs from all angles. A number of “champions” have signed on to follow topics such as: the calibration program; the analysis of data from an integral field unit or multi-object spectrograph; observatory efficiency; support for coronographic observations; and the requirements for highly accurate photometry. These champions have formed inter-mission working groups—especially with the Hubble teams—to anticipate science-operational issues and to recommend strategies to maximize observational efficiency. To this end, we have developed more than a dozen observing scenarios to learn, for example, the subtleties of observing campaigns such as: deep-field probes of high-redshift galaxies; spectroscopy of the Galactic center; imaging of circumstellar debris disks; and observations of transiting planets.

We welcome community involvement developing JWST science operations. To contribute, please visit http://jwstinput.wikidot.com/ and or email us at jwst_input@stsci.edu.