Scientific Discovery with the James Webb Space Telescope

Status Report From: e-Print archive
Posted: Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Jason Kalirai

(Submitted on 17 May 2018)

For the past 400 years, astronomers have sought to observe and interpret the Universe by building more powerful telescopes. These incredible instruments extend the capabilities of one of our most important senses, sight, towards new limits such as increased sensitivity and resolution, new dimensions such as exploration of wavelengths across the full electromagnetic spectrum, new information content such as analysis through spectroscopy, and new cadences such as rapid time-series views of the variable sky. The results from these investments, from small to large telescopes on the ground and in space, have completely transformed our understanding of the Universe; including the discovery that Earth is not the center of the Universe, that the Milky Way is one among many galaxies in the Universe, that relic cosmic background radiation fills all space in the early Universe, that that the expansion rate of the Universe is accelerating, that exoplanets are common around stars, that gravitational waves exist, and much more. For modern astronomical research, the next wave of breakthroughs in fields ranging over planetary, stellar, galactic, and extragalactic science motivate a general-purpose observatory that is optimized at near- and mid-infrared wavelengths, and that has much greater sensitivity, resolution, and spectroscopic multiplexing than all previous telescopes. This scientific vision, from measuring the composition of rocky worlds in the nearby Milky Way galaxy to finding the first sources of light in the Universe to other topics at the forefront of modern astrophysics, motivates the state-of-the-art James Webb Space Telescope (Webb). In this review paper, I summarize the design and technical capabilities of Webb and the scientific opportunities that it enables.

Comments:    Accepted for Publication in Contemporary Physics. 67 pages, including 18 figures. Astro-ph version includes an Appendix on "Observing Opportunities"
Subjects:    Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Cosmology and Nongalactic Astrophysics (astro-ph.CO); Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP); Astrophysics of Galaxies (astro-ph.GA); Solar and Stellar Astrophysics (astro-ph.SR)
DOI:    10.1080/00107514.2018.1467648
Cite as:    arXiv:1805.06941 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:1805.06941v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)
Submission history
From: Jason Singh Kalirai [view email]
[v1] Thu, 17 May 2018 19:24:06 GMT (22332kb,D)

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