Students to help select JWST targets

A new initiative will get students to hunt out observing targets so that the JWST can investigate how matter gets spread throughout the Universe.

The JWST will have a 6.5m wide, gold plated mirror. It is currently scheduled to launch in 2021. Credit: NASA
Published: September 18, 2018 at 12:00 pm
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A new project aims to involve students in real science, by getting them to help select possible targets for the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Observations of these targets could help unravel how matter gets spread around our Galaxy.


We know that all the matter that creates everything from galaxies to the planets is created inside of stars.

What is less certain is how these elements are spread through the Milky Way once they have been created.

To help understand how the gas moves around the Universe, astronomers from the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) hope to use the JWST.

The JWST will be the most powerful infrared telescope when it launches in early 2021.

It’s highly sensitive camera will allow researchers to study – among other things – the massive clouds of dust that drift through our Galaxy.

Before they can do that though, they will need to select observing locations where they can investigate how material is spread through the Universe.

To do that, the STFC have partnered with the Institute for Research in Schools (IRIS) to help enlist students to aid them in searching out good places for JWST to observe.

The students will study the spectra (plots of how much light is given off at certain wavelengths) of stars taken by previous infrared observatory the Spitzer Space Telescope.

By looking for tell-tale features in the spectra such as bumps and dips, students will be able to help identify what elements are in the coschanmic dust, and create a picture of what elements are in the cosmic dust at various places and times throughout the Universe.

As well as analysing the data, students will be involved with selecting potential targets and creating the proposal that will make a case for the team being granted observing time on the JWST.

The project aims to gives students an insight into how scientific research is really done.


To find out more about taking part visit the IRIS website.


Ezzy Pearson is the News Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.


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