A look into the NRC faces behind the James Webb Space Telescope

- Victoria, British Columbia

Photo credit: NASA / Chris Gunn

The James Webb Space Telescope (commonly referred to as Webb) is an international collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). The NRC has worked with the Canadian Space Agency to support the science and technology behind this exciting science mission, which is designed to change our understanding of the Universe.

Due to launch from French Guiana on December 22, 2021, Webb's unique capability will revolutionize astronomical investigation and discovery. The telescope can be used to study objects from within our own solar system all the way out to the early distant universe, which will impact most areas in astronomy.

How the NRC has helped support Canadian participation in Webb

Canadian participation in Webb is led by the CSA. The project scientist, 1 of the 2 lead roles on the Canadian Webb science team, is based at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC). Over the years, Dr. Chris Willott, and his predecessor, Dr. John Hutchings, have provided scientific oversight to the design, fabrication and testing of 2 major instruments Canada is providing to Webb. Under their purview, the NRC's Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre was involved in the concept and design of the fine guidance sensor (FGS), a crucial component which helps point and stabilize the telescope on the target objects with the necessary high precision.

Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre engineers and scientists also worked with the CSA and their contractors on the science instrument that became the near-infrared imager and slitless spectrograph (NIRISS): a scientific instrument with unique capability that will be applied to the study of many astronomical objects, including exoplanets and distant galaxies. By providing these instruments, Canada receives access to a 5% share of Webb's competed observation time, as well as some guaranteed telescope time for the instrument teams.

In addition, the Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC) has stored all of the data from Hubble since its launch in 1990 and makes its data available globally to researchers. The CADC will be doing the same for Webb and will be supporting Canadian researchers as they process and analyze Webb data.

NRC at work on the Canadian Webb team: project scientists

Today, major observatories are decades in the making—even multi-generational. The NRC first began contributing to Webb in the 1990s, when Dr. John Hutchings, then Principal Research Officer at HAA, along with former Director General Dr. Simon Lilly, worked to have Canada included in the project.

NRC research to come using Webb

NRC astronomers will be involved in both guaranteed time observations, and also the first round of "general observer" research, including the following projects led by principal investigators at the NRC.

While these projects will be led by NRC researchers, they will be brought to life by supporting team members at academic and research institutions around the world, and NRC colleagues including Drs. Laura Ferrarese, Joel Roediger and Tyrone Woods.

For more information on the latest astronomy research, publications and instrumentation from the NRC, visit the Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre.

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