Kosmosest Newsletter #11: Where to Point for the Next Discoveries?
In January 2023, astronomers worldwide were scouring their notes like students cramming for finals as they polished up their work ahead of a deadline. Well, some are better at time management than others, but this was the last day to submit an application for observation time on JWST, the advanced infrared space telescope, and that process seemed like
rocket science brain surgery.
Why am I telling you about this? It’s one of the behind-the-scenes look into astronomy, prior to a potential headline that space enthusiasts might spot. The telescope’s observations have frequently made news in the past year, and the ideas submitted that day in January determine the next awe-inspiring images and discoveries we’ll be seeing.
Let’s take a step back and recall some of the photos you might have spotted.
Ahead of JWST’s first year—or cycle—of observations (July 2022-July 2023), scientists from 41 countries around the world submitted their proposals for science that could be done, pitching where to point the space telescope.
A proposal has to build a strong case on why a certain object should be studied, and why it matters to the field. It also has to include the details of carrying the observation out, such as the correct instrument(s) and appropriate optical filters to be used.
The committee of STScI (Space Telescope Science Institute) selected the proposals it found to have the most transformative ideas, and gave each a certain number of hours of observation time in the schedule. Time was also set aside for scientists who helped design and build the instruments. The science program of the first cycle is publicly available.
For the first cycle, a total of 266 proposals out of about 1200 got accepted. These programmes led to findings on the most distant galaxies, early evolution of stars, solar system science, exoplanets, and more.
We’re now nearing the next cycle, and this is what the new schedule has to be determined for. In January, I was one of the many astronomers making a contribution to a proposal. The science institute later shared that a record-breaking number of "pitches" were submitted (1,602 unique proposals). The final selection is expected by May 10, 2023.
Thanks for reading!
More images and their descriptions: webbtelescope.org
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