On This Episode
Astrophysicist in the Space Science and Astrobiology Division at NASA Ames Research Center
Chief Executive Officer for The Planetary Society
Chief Scientist / LightSail Program Manager for The Planetary Society
Planetary Radio Host and Producer for The Planetary Society
Also heard in this week's special episode:
- President Joe Biden
- NASA Administrator Bill Nelson
- Astronomer Michelle Thaller
- Senior Project Scientist John Mather
- Operations project scientist Jane Rigby
- Deputy project scientist for communications Amber Straughn
- European Space Agency senior advisor for science and exploration Mark McCaughrean
- Project manager Bill Ochs
- Deputy project scientist for exoplanet science Knicole Colón
- Principal investigator for the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph René Doyon
- Astronomy Magazine contributor Christopher Cokinos
- Program scientist and Astrophysics Division chief scientist at NASA Headquarters Eric Smith
- Project scientist, at the Space Telescope Science Institute Klaus Pontoppidan
Have you seen them? Five spectacular images have given us a taste of what’s ahead from the James Webb Space Telescope. Bill Nye will share his reactions after we hear excerpts from NASA’s image revealing event on July 12. We’ll then talk with astrophysicist Tom Greene of the NASA Ames Research Center. Tom has hundreds of hours on the new space telescope to examine planets circling other stars. Planetary Society Chief Scientist Bruce Betts will add his thoughts during What’s Up as he offers a space trivia question that ties the JWST to a long lost fast food hamburger.
- See JWST's amazing first science images
- Planetary Radio: Visiting the James Webb Space Telescope
- Planetary Radio: Nobel laureate John Mather: The promise of the James Webb Space Telescope
- See JWST’s first deep field image, by Bill Nye
- JWST versus Hubble: How are they different?
- What might JWST reveal about TRAPPIST-1?
- The Downlink
- Subscribe to the monthly Planetary Radio newsletter
This Week’s Question:
Generally speaking, what goal does the JWST heat shield share with the packaging of the now retired McDonalds McDLT hamburger?
This Week’s Prize:
A copy of Bruce Betts’ new book “Solar System Reference for Teens.”
To submit your answer:
Complete the contest entry form at https://www.planetary.org/radiocontest or write to us at [email protected] no later than Wednesday, July 20 at 8am Pacific Time. Be sure to include your name and mailing address.
Last week's question:
27 stars are displayed on the national flag of Brazil. Only one of these is displayed above the white band crossing the center of the flag. What star and what Brazilian state does it represent?
The winner will be revealed next week.
Question from the June 29, 2022 space trivia contest:
What are the names of the two cameras on the Italian Space Agency’s LICIACube probe that is part of the DART asteroid redirect mission?
The two cameras on the Italian Space Agency LICIACube probe that is part of the DART asteroid redirect mission are named LEIA (LICIACube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid), a narrow field of view camera, and LUKE (LICIACube Unit Key Explorer), a wide imager with an RGB Bayer pattern infrared filter.
Mat Kaplan: An awesome new window on the universe opens wide, this week on Planetary Radio.
Speaker 2: One, two, three, go where?
Mat Kaplan: Welcome. I'm Mat Kaplan of The Planetary Society, with more of the human adventure across our solar system and beyond. After decades of work, after threats to the project's existence, and after a million mile journey across space, the JWST has begun its historic work. On this special edition of Planetary Radio, we will hear some of what took place as those first five images were released. Bill Nye will share his reaction, and we'll enjoy an extended conversation with Tom Greene, one of the people who helped build the telescope, and who now looks forward to using it to examine exoplanets as never before.
Mat Kaplan: With all that's ahead of us, we'll forego headlines from The Downlink, the society's free weekly newsletter, but you can find it at planetary.org/downlink. Never fear, Bruce Betts will be along as usual with an offbeat new space trivia contest that will tie the new telescope to a defunct hamburger. Seriously. It's the evening of Monday, July 11th, 2022. President Joe Biden is about to reveal the very first science image from the James Webb Space Telescope.
President Joe Biden: Six and a half months ago, a rocket launchED from earth carrying the world's newest, most powerful deep space telescope on a journey one million miles into the cosmos. First of all, that blows my mind, a million miles into the cosmos. Along the way, unfolding itself, deploying a mirror 21 feet wide for science and technology. For astronomy and space exploration, for America and all of humanity. You know, as an international collaboration, this telescope of embodies how America leads the world, not by the example of our power, but the power of our example. A partnership with others. It symbolizes the relentless spirit of American ingenuity, and it shows what we can achieve, what more we can discover, not just about distant places, but about our very own planet and climate like NASA's Earth Systems Observatory that we launched last year. And now let's take a look at the very first image from this miraculous telescope. NASA Administrator Nelson, I'm going to turn this over to you so will you please tell us about what we're seeing?
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson: Mr. President, if you held a grain of sand on the tip of your finger at arms length, that is the part of the universe that you're seeing, just one little speck of the universe. You're seeing galaxies that are shining around other galaxies whose light has been bent. 100 years ago, Mr. President, Madam Vice President, 100 years ago, we thought there was only one galaxy. Now, the number is unlimited. And in our galaxy, we have billions of stars or suns, and there are billions of galaxies with billions of stars and suns. And we're getting our first glimpse. As you said, Mr. President, we're looking back more than 13 billion years. And by the way, we're going back further, because this is just the first image. They're going back about 13 and a half billion years. And since we know the universe is 13.8 billion years old, we're going back almost to the beginning.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson: There's another thing that you're going to find with this telescope. It is going be so precise. You're going to see whether or not planets because of the chemical composition that we can determine with this telescope of their atmosphere, if those planets are habitable. We are going to be able to answer questions that we don't even know what the questions are yet. This is what's happening. What an incredible team, joined by the way, with our international partners, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency.
Mat Kaplan: NASA Administrator Bill Nelson at the White House with President Biden, Vice President Harris, and others. Now it's the morning of Tuesday, July 12, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is the nexus for a worldwide celebration of the JWST, and the first viewing of four more spectacular images. Astronomer Michelle Thaller is about to welcome a past planetary radio guest to the live broadcast.
Michelle Thaller: So longtime space fans are going to know who this is. This is Dr. John Mather. He's the senior project scientist for the Webb Telescope, and a Nobel Prize winner. And John, I couldn't be happier to be here with you today.
John Mather: Thank you. It's a thrill to be here for this very special day.
Michelle Thaller: How are you feeling?
John Mather: I am thrilled and I'm relieved because when you start something this big, you know there's always a possibility it might not work. It did work. We are so proud.
Michelle Thaller: And you've been on this project for a very long time, right?
John Mather: Yeah. I started in 1995, we had just finished measuring the Big Bang. We measured it with a cosmic background, explore a satellite that we built right here at Goddard. And we measured the spectrum. We measured there are hot and cold spots in the Big Bang. So we said, now we know how it all got started, but then what happened after that? So then I got a call from NASA headquarters. Would I like to work on this new telescope? That's going to help answer those questions. What happened after the big bang? How did the galaxies grow? How did the first black holes grow? What happened all the way from there to here? So this is our time machine and I just wanted to be part of it. I am so thrilled that we got a chance to do it.
Michelle Thaller: Yeah. One of the things that I remember you saying, this is kind of amazing that after you win the Nobel Prize, you thought that this mission was the most important thing to work on.
John Mather: Absolutely. It's the next question. After you know how it started, what happened then? And when suddenly we now have the technology to do it, we didn't have 50 years ago. Didn't have the technology 25 years ago even when I started this, we had to invent things along the way. So we did that and here it is,
Mat Kaplan: Nobel prize winning astrophysicist and JWST senior project scientist, John Mather. Host, Michelle Thaller now turned to Jane Rigby, JWST operations project scientist for a review of the deep field image that had been revealed the previous evening by President Biden.
Michelle Thaller: All right, here we go.
Jane Rigby: Okay. So the first image is a deep field and it's also a deep field with a cluster. So why don't we walk through this just a little bit. So if we come up and look at this image, first of all, it's really gorgeous. And it's teaming with galaxies. And that's something that has been true for every image we've gotten with web. We can't take blank sky. Everywhere we look, there's galaxies everywhere. And so this image, as we're looking at it, what we're seeing is not just all the galaxies, but there's a cluster here. And so the cluster are all these white kind of ethereal galaxies. We're seeing them as they looked back in time, right? The speed of light is only so fast. And so as we're seeing distant galaxies out in space, we're seeing them as they looked billions of years ago.
Jane Rigby: So these cluster galaxies, the white ones, we're seeing as they looked about the time the sun and the earth formed. And then behind the cluster, the gravity of the cluster is distorting and warping our view of what's behind. And so there are these galaxies that look stretched and pulled kind of like they've been magnified, because they've been magnified by the gravity of the cluster, just like Einstein said they would. And it's really, there's so much detail here. We're seeing these galaxies in a way that we've never been able to see before. There's just a sharpness and a clarity we've never had. And so we can look at, if we zoom in on this image and I encourage you as you grab this image at home, zoom in, really zoom in and play around. There are galaxies here in which you're seeing individual clusters of stars forming, popping up just like popcorn.
Jane Rigby: And then we also see in the background of this image kind of littered like jewels all over the back of the image are these faint red galaxies. Now, that was what we built the telescope to do. The most distant of those are billions of years, we're seeing as they looked more than 13 billion years ago. And so galaxies like that one right there, this little red guy, you're like, okay, yep. What is that? Well, Webb got spectra to figure out what those galaxies are made of. And this is that one, we're seeing as it looked 13.1 billion years in the past, less than a billion years after the Big Bang. And we're seeing the elements of oxygen and hydrogen as well as neon, this is how the oxygen in our bodies was made, in stars, in galaxies. And we're seeing that process get started.
Michelle Thaller: Yeah. I just, I want to give this a little bit of context. So this is now the farthest away galaxy that we have this sort of detailed information about.
Jane Rigby: That we know what it's made of.
Michelle Thaller: We know what it's made of. And this was not a long exposure for Webb.
Jane Rigby: No, the previous record holder, the Hubble of extreme deep field was two weeks of continuous work with Hubble. And it was just imaging. With Webb, we took that image before breakfast. The amazing thing about Webb is the speed at which we can churn out discoveries. So everything that you're going to see here in this broadcast is a week, and we're going to be doing discoveries like this every week.
Mat Kaplan: JWST operations project scientist, Jane Rigby. In case you hadn't noticed, this is a podcast. This is a radio show. We can't show you the telescope images, but I can direct you to planetary.org. We've put a lot of excellent resources on our homepage, including my colleague Rae Paoletta's piece about all five pictures, Jason Davis's comparison of the JWST to the Hubble, an excellent introduction to the telescope itself, and much more. Stick around for my conversation with Tom Greene that includes his analysis of the images. For now, we'll jump directly to the last one presented. Here's Michelle Thaller again, this time with JWST deputy project scientist for communications, Amber Straughn.
Michelle Thaller: The last image is, wow. Look at that. So, Amber, can you tell us a bit about what we're seeing here?
Amber Straughn: Of course. This stunning vista of the cosmic cliffs of the Carina Nebula reveals new details about this vast stellar nursery. Today, for the first time, we're seeing brand new stars that were previously completely hidden from our view.
Michelle Thaller: There's something you want to point out here.
Amber Straughn: Absolutely. So honestly, it took me a while to even figure out what to call out in this image. There's just so much going on here. It's so beautiful. One thing that really, really stands out to me is you sort of get this sense of depth and texture from this new data. There's just, there's a lot going on. To call out a few specifics, first of all, in general, the Carina Nebula is a nearby star-forming region within our own Milky Way Galaxy, about 7,600 light years away. And in this view, we see some great examples. First of all, of hundreds of new stars that we've never seen before. We see examples of bubbles and cavities and jets that are being blown out by these newborn stars. We even see some galaxy sort of lurking in the background up here. We see examples of structures that honestly, we don't even know what they are, what's going on here? The data is just so rich.
Mat Kaplan: Deputy project scientist for communications, Amber Straughn. The celebration of the telescope's first images was an international affair. We saw fans gathered everywhere from Bangalore India to British Columbia. The Canadian Space Agency contributed a segment, as did the European Space Agency. Mark McCaughrean helped represent ESA. Mark is the agency's Senior Advisor for Science and Exploration.
Mark McCaughrean: These are like pictures just taken over a period of five days. And every five days we're getting more data, which will contribute more in that direction. It's a culmination of decades of work, but it's just the beginning of decades. And what we've seen today with these images is essentially that we are ready now, this telescope is working fantastically well. And to borrow a phrase from a famous rock musician, we're ready to turn this telescope up to 11. It really is time. It's fantastic.
Mat Kaplan: Bill Ochs was one of my guests when I visited the JWST at Northrop Grumman's Redondo Beach California facility a year ago. Bill became the telescope's project manager in 2010.
Bill Ochs: When I see these images, I see four things. I see dedication, and I have never seen dedication on this project like I have seen on any other mission I have worked. I see personal sacrifice of so many individuals that my heart is just overwhelmed with pride for the folks on this program. Finally, also, I see passion. I've never seen the passion for this program, and that's what helps with the first two things I mentioned. Finally, I just see the faces of all our individuals who have worked in this program, both the past and the present. And I can neither myself nor NASA will be able to be able to think, thank these persons enough. And finally, on a more personal note, the Webb team itself, we were all going to be bonded for the rest of our lives, by the Webb experience. And I have to thank you for the privilege that you have allowed me to be part of that experience. Thank you.
Mat Kaplan: We've got a link to that great 2021 planetary radio JWST visit on this week's episode page at planetary.org/radio, along with many other great resources. The image reveal was followed by a media briefing. Here are just three of the questions posed by reporters to JWST team members.
Jeff Foust: Thanks, Jeff Foust with Space News. I know the early release observations are designed to showcase the broad scope of what JWST can do. And I know one of the important areas of science for JWST is solar system science. So when can we expect the first solar system images or spectra from JWST?
René Doyon: Well, so there have already been solar system observations taken. And so those observations will be released, I think on Thursday, along with the rest of the commissioning data. So that's when the public will see the first ones. We are very keenly aware that this is an important science area for the observatory. We are also very confident what we know that we can produce wonderful, beautiful data and images for this. And so I actually have no doubt that we are going to see spectacular things from the solar system soon. It was just an early decision made for the early release observations that we didn't want to have to count on the moving target observations, working really, keeping things not too complicated. As it actually turns out, we probably could have done it, but here we are.
Mat Kaplan: I was one of the lucky reporters who got to ask a question by phone. I based it on the atmospheric spectra revealed for Exoplanet Wasp 96b, a giant world that orbits its star in less than three and a half days. You'll hear it answered by Knicole Colón, Web Deputy Project Scientist for Exoplanet Science, and past planetary radio guest, René Doyon, Principal Investigator for the Canadian=built near infrared imager and slit list spectrograph on the JWST.
Mat Kaplan: Thank you, everyone. Magnificent images, magnificent day. With the Wasp 96b spectra in hand, what are you now expecting or at least hoping for in spectra from more Earthlike worlds? I mean, how close might we come to detection of those atmospheric components that could indicate life, biological activity?
Speaker 13: Okay, thank you for the question. Knicole, René, if you'd like to start?
Knicole Colón: Sure. Yeah, I can start. So what you've seen with the Wasp 96 were prominent water vapor absorption features. So those bumps upward are actually indicate there's water in the atmosphere absorbing Starlight. And so it's very similar as we push towards smaller planets, we mentioned the TRAPPIST-1 planets in particular, these are the best targets right now that are small rocky earth-size with a few of those planets in that system, in the habitable zone of their star. We're also going to be looking for evidence of water and as well as other molecules that contain carbon and hydrogen. So that's methane, carbon dioxide, molecules like that. When you combine all that together, you can understand the content of the carbon oxygen hydrogen, and that's important because those are some of the basic building blocks of life. So we're hopeful that we'll see those data come out and reveal the spectrum of those atmospheres. And I think we'll just have to wait for time to reveal the story. And then Renee, if you would like to add.
René Doyon: Yeah, I just wanted to add that of course we're looking at systems that we know now, but you can expect many exoplanet systems to be unveiled. And the test mission is already finding a lot. One thing that it is predicted to exist, these water worlds, planets that have a rocky core with the thick oceans around them. And the only way to unveil the system is to detect the water features in their atmosphere. And you can expect, we have to be able to do this once we have a target that it looks like a water well. Yeah, there's many, many new discoveries that we can expect, but focus on relatively small planets and the majority of them will be around and DW these very small stars, because it's just much easier to detect the atmosphere around these small stars.
Mat Kaplan: Just one more great question from the JWST media briefing, it came from Christopher Cokinos. You may remember him from our space poetry jam. Responding, are Eric Smith, Webb Program Scientist, and Astrophysics Division Chief Scientist at NASA headquarters Klaus Pontoppidan, Webb Project Scientist at the Space Telescope Science Institute, and René Doyon.
Speaker 15: Okay. That next question comes from Christopher Cokinos with Astrology magazine. Your line is now open.
Christopher Cokinos: Thank you. Yeah. That's Astronomy Magazine, just to be clear. Yeah. I wish I was in the room to see the reaction. First, congratulations everybody, really incredible stuff. And I know that we've heard terms like amazing, revolutionary, exciting and so forth. I'm actually wondering if one or two of the project scientists could kind of compare the Webb to another moment in the history of astronomy or science. I mean, what do you rank this with? The discovery of DNA, Galileo's first observations of the moon. I mean, where would you sort of rank this in comparison to other breakthroughs in astronomy? Thank you.
Eric Smith: So I'll take a first crack at it so everybody else has time to think of a good answer here. This, for me, it is like seeing Hubble again, but actually better because we have this coverage that overlaps with Hubble and we're actually even sharper than Hubble there. So this is again, seeing the universe in a new way that while we expected we could be able to do this, to actually see it for the first time, internalize it tells me that everything we've planned through cycle one, the astronomical community was bold, but it wasn't bold enough. So I'm really excited for what people now plan to do for the second cycle, seeing just how capable the facility is. So for me, the closest thing would be Hubble when it was repaired and we saw everything kind of snap into focus. I don't know about others. Klaus?
Klaus Pontoppidan: Yeah, yeah. To me, I'm not comparing to an astronomy mission, but almost. So my favorite pair of missions were the Voyager missions. Launched about the time that I was born, still going. And I remember growing up, being a kid and seeing a few years in between those first high resolution images of the outer planets. And it's one of the things that brought me into astronomy today. So I think that's what reminds me the most for what web is seeing these things in high resolution for the first time and just going, wow, there is so much there.
René Doyon: I mean, if I may, in a way, we may have to wait several years to answer that question. Because history shows very intimately that whenever a new facility is online and you ask the questions five, 10 years later, what was the biggest discovery of that facility? Well, nobody could predict it. And in fact, we've designed this telescope and instrument to do incredible science that we're going to start executing now, but really we don't know what we're going to find. Hubble is a good example. Hubble was to measure the Hubble constant, and it did, but nobody anticipated that they would measure the universe that is accelerating, that was a surprise. So who knows what's coming for JWSD, but I'm sure we're going to have a lot of surprises.
Mat Kaplan: Still ahead on this week's celebration of the James Webb Space Telescope are Bill Nye, and NASA Ames astrophysicist, and JWST co-investigator, Thomas Greene. And of course, Bruce, with What's Up?
George Takei: Hello, I'm George Takei. And as you know, I'm very proud of my association with Star Trek. Star Trek was a show that looked to the future with optimism, boldly going where no one had gone before. I want you to know about a very special organization called The Planetary Society. They are working to make the future that Star Trek represents a reality. When you become a member of The Planetary Society, you join their mission to increase discoveries in our solar system, to elevate the search for life outside our planet, and decrease the risk of earth being hit by an asteroid. Co-founded by Carl Sagan, and led today by CEO Bill Nye, The Planetary Society exists for those who believe in space exploration to take action together. So join The Planetary Society, and boldly go together to build our future.
Mat Kaplan: Welcome back, Bill Nye is CEO of The Planetary Society. We talked not long after the JWST image reveal and media briefing.
Mat Kaplan: Bill, what a morning, what an afternoon. It works, and wow.
Bill Nye: Yeah, exactly. So everybody, this thing costs 10 billion dollars by the time it was all done. Over 25, a little more, maybe 26 years, depending how you count, but what a remarkable thing. And as the expression goes, it costs so much because they needed too many miracles. But they did it, I say they, we pulled it off. It's quite an engineering feat. One side of this thing is facing the sun out in deep space. I don't know what does that get? Couple hundred Celsius. And the other side is facing the icy blackness of space.
Bill Nye: So you end up with this thing, fantastic temperature differences. And they've been, they, we, it has been out there in space the last few months, just getting cold so that it could detect these tiny, tiny signals in the infrared, just beyond what our human eyes can see. And it's really just quite an achievement because it took all this time, people stuck with it. If you're a member of The Planetary Society, thank you. Because you helped advocate to keep this thing going over the last couple and a half decades. And now the first images are coming down and we are looking farther into the past than was ever possible.
Mat Kaplan: I think we did our first Planetary Radio episode about the JWST, what would become the JWST in 2006. And even that wasn't that close to the beginning of this project.
Bill Nye: No, that was almost 10 years in. Yeah.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. But it was worth waiting for, I mean, all you have to do is look at those images and they just scratch the literal cosmic surface.
Bill Nye: That's right. Yeah. So what we are looking at is not just stars, but galaxies full of stars. And what you're looking at is a sphere. When you're looking at light from as far away as you can look, that surface, everything else being equal is not flat it's round, which just adds to the weirdness for me. It's just, wow, really? The whole thing is crazy. I just think about my grandparents met, they were born, all four of them were born in the 19th century. I'm of a certain age. They didn't know that there was relativity, let alone, what relativity would one day lead to. The tunneling electron microscopes, mobile phones, nuclear power, and so on. All of that was discovered somewhat after they were born. You just think about where this may lead. Suppose we understand whatever dark matter is, what is dark energy? Suppose we figure it out. Then there will be some amazing application someday, stuff we literally have yet to imagine. And when I say literally Matt, I mean, literally. We haven't imagined it yet. It's really something.
Mat Kaplan: Here's a great line from the little essay that people can find from you at planetary.org. It's a special feeling knowing that your understanding of the cosmos may be about to change.
Bill Nye: It is a special feeling. I was in conversation with our own Kate Howells and Rae Paoletta about that. Human history is going to get a nudge. I'm not saying we're all going to start driving on the other side of the street, but we're all going to think about the cosmos and our place within it a little differently when these data, as they come down, when people figure out what we're really looking at. And look, everybody, if we are able to point this instrument at a planet, orbiting another star, an exoplanet, and decide that it really has methane natural gas in the atmosphere, the only like significant, like if you're serious about it, source of methane here on earth is from living things. There's other inorganic processes, but generally it's going to be living things, bacteria metabolizing. Man, it would just give you pause for thought people. Over the last 25 years, spent 10 billion dollars. What's that? A cup of coffee per taxpayer. It's really amazing.
Mat Kaplan: And another 20 years, maybe more if we're lucky ahead of us with this telescope in space.
Bill Nye: Well, yeah. These guys and gals got to say, they under-promise over-perform. I wouldn't be surprised if this telescope goes longer than 20 years. 20 years. Matt, what are we going to be doing in 20 years? If we're going to be doing anything.
Mat Kaplan: Hopefully talking to you still Bill, it is literally wonderful to talk to you on this great day to be a member of humanity and see this accomplishment coming about.
Bill Nye: And a member of The Planetary Society. You supported this for decades. It almost got canceled in the US Congress. I don't want to throw out a half dozen, but certainly more than twice. And because of you all, we stuck with it and here you are. So thank you. Thank you all very much.
Mat Kaplan: And thank you, Bill. That's the CEO of The Planetary Society, Bill Nye, the planetary and science guy. Thousands of scientists, engineers, managers, and people with every imaginable skill contributed to the success of the JWST. I remember watching as seamstresses sewed the giant sun shields. Astrophysicist Thomas Greene straddles the interlocking worlds of the engineer and scientist. Tom is in the space science and astrobiology division at NASA's Ames Research Center near Silicon Valley in California. As you'll hear, he is a co-investigator on two of the telescopes four instruments, and is a member of the JWST Users Committee. He directed the Ames Center for Exoplanet Studies, and while a faculty member at the University of Hawaii, directed the NASA Infrared Telescope facility. He joined me on July 12, just minutes after the first viewing of the JWST science images.
Mat Kaplan: Tom, that media briefing just yesterday, as people begin to hear this program has just ended for us. You told me that you tuned in this morning along with millions of others, including me and all of my colleagues at The Planetary Society. Wow. Right?
Thomas Greene: Yeah. It's just amazing to see it actually works and to get all this new information.
Mat Kaplan: You were telling me a moment or two before we started to record you, because you're an insider, you actually got a little preview. How did that work?
Thomas Greene: Usually, NASA isn't quite so tight-lipped about new observations. They'll canvas the whole science team for ideas, and it'll be more of an open discussion, but because this is so important, they really had a pretty tight subset of people that were involved in making these observations. I was observing in the mission operations center, and I can tell when the observations were happening, but I couldn't see the data. I could see all the other instrument performance data, but not this. So we're very curious about it. So we did get a little bit of a preview. So the ones of us that specifically will be on the science teams and talking to the press. We got some information just a couple days beforehand about each of the objects.
Mat Kaplan: And we will get more into the role that you play within the mission and the science that you hope to do a little bit later in this conversation. But of course I have to ask for your general impressions. I mean, you are largely an exoplanet person, so I'll start right there with that spectra from Wasp 96b.
Thomas Greene: Yeah. It's really great to see the spectrum of a real planet. We actually made observations of a couple other planets during our commissioning, but we chose planets where we wouldn't see anything in the spectrum, because we wanted to make sure that any little wiggles we saw would be due to noise in the instruments. We didn't want any things, any molecules in the planet to get in the way. So it's actually really neat to see that this thing actually sees features in the atmosphere and it's showing more than what we could see in like the recent Hubble specter that we published.
Mat Kaplan: I was just thinking my goodness, you wanted to avoid those spectral lines, which might have represented oxygen or, chloroflurocarbons from some civilization on that world. I'm glad we're past that stage in the JWST's evolution.
Thomas Greene: Yes, very much so. And it's a exciting thing to see here in the spectrum they showed from Wasp 96b is that not only do we have the data points, it covers a much wider wavelength range that we can get with any individual telescope. So it's important to get all that at once so that you're not being overly influenced by changes in the atmosphere of the planet or different star spots at the different times of observation.
Mat Kaplan: Does this spectrum, has it increased your optimism about just how deeply we may be able to go into other, perhaps more Earth-like worlds atmospheres and look for among other things, those markers of possible biological activity?
Thomas Greene: Definitely. One of the nice things about this planet is that it does show pretty strong water and also some atomic absorptions that were observed before. So we can compare to like the best observations we had with Hubble. We see this is a lot better. So that really kind of shows us that we really will be able to make the big leap in observations of other planets where our data right now aren't very good. The other thing is that this first spectrum is with just one instrument, and there are four instruments on web.
Thomas Greene: This goes from about 0.7 microns. So that's just about the reddest color our eyes can see all the way out to 2.7 microns. That's definitely out into the infrared. It's longer than Hubble can only see to about 1.75. Now this wavelength range is very sensitive to water. It's a little sensitive to carbon monoxide and ammonia, but those features aren't very strong. We'll be able to go other instruments from two and a half microns out to 10 will be able to get much stronger carbon features, which we know carbon's important for life. So it'll be in carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane. Those are all strong features and ammonia out at longer wavelengths. And also there's an ozone feature that we know is sort of a surrogate for oxygen.
Mat Kaplan: While we're on the subject of what the JWST uses to make these detections, I know you're a co-investigator on two of these for instruments, right? Can you tell us about those?
Thomas Greene: One instrument is the near infrared camera. It's kind of the workhorse instrument of the observatory in a lot of ways. We were actually looking through all the commissioning data. I think it was used in over half of all the observations during the six month commissioning period. It is scientifically capable. It has more detectors, more pixels than any other instrument, probably more than all of the other ones put together, to give you an idea. It has 10 detectors. Each one has got over four million pixels in it. And it's very redundant. So we have sort of two camera fields that are right next to each other on the sky. Each one is about the size of the wide field camera of Hubble. Each one's about two minutes by two minutes. So we've got twice the area there and many more times the depth. This camera is also very important for using to actually align the telescope.
Thomas Greene: So that's why it was used so much in the early stages. We turned it on late January. The 30th is when we got our first images on the sky, and we just turned it on to see what was there. We had 18 different images for a given star because all the mirrors were pointing in different directions. And then we use the camera to align it all. And we have all these other gizmos and optics in there to help with the alignment. And we can use some of those for science too. I designed these things called grisms that were designed to help capture the segments of the telescope to focus them so that they're the right height so that they phase with each other, but we're actually using them for exoplanet spectra, and also using them for spectra of galaxies in wide fields.
Thomas Greene: Not only is it a camera, it is also a spectrograph. The mid-infrared instrument is pretty interesting. Near cam, the first one I described is a US instrument, it was led by Marsha Reiki and her team at the University of Arizona. It was built at the Lockheed Martin Advanced Technology Center in Palo Alto, which I used to work. And so it was mostly a US team with European and collaborators. So that's like the one US-only instrument. Mary is a joint instrument between US and a consortium of European countries. Professor Jillian Wright at the University of Edinburgh and the UK Astronomical Technology Center put together a consortium with 10 countries to do MIRI. It was a lot of the hard stuff they did the optical design. They did all the optics. They did the mechanics and we in the US supplied the detectors. It is both a camera, and also it has two different spectroscopy boats, which are quite complex. So it's almost like two different instruments rolled into one, but with its both sophisticated camera and spectroscopy features.
Mat Kaplan: I don't know how obvious it is already from what you've just said, but you are one of these people who straddles the line between a scientist who's looking forward to doing your own observations, using the web, and somebody who helps to build these instruments that allow these observations to be made. I mean, what does that feel like?
Thomas Greene: I really like it. I really like to be, I guess the modern parlance is a maker, and I'm also interested in the science. That's kind of why I went to grad school and astronomy and went down this road. I've always been interested in both. I had some hardware projects, in graduate school I was also interested in the science, and it's particularly exciting to see things that I designed actually work, and then be able to use them for science. And opportunities like this don't come along very often, and I'm really happy and grateful that it worked out.
Mat Kaplan: By the way, grisms, I love that. I mean, I assume that's an acronym for something.
Thomas Greene: Yeah. It's an acronym for grading, which will defract light into its different colors, and a prism. It allows you to turn a camera into a spectrograph, because you can send light through it just like a filter.
Mat Kaplan: Great stuff. Let's talk a little bit about those observations of your own. I mean, you told me a few days ago that you begin to get your hands on that giant new space telescope, what, just like next month?
Thomas Greene: Yeah. So our first observation is scheduled, I think for August 20th. And this is this planet that has caused a lot of consternation among people. It's called GJ1214b, and it's something called a sub-Neptune. It's got a radius of only a couple times out of the earth. There's nothing like it in our solar system, but, most of the planets in our galaxy seem to be like this, which is like a real conundrum. This is something that the Kepler mission discovered. I think that's one of the big discoveries of that mission is that most of the planets in the galaxy are not like anything in our solar system. Most of these planets are bigger than earth, smaller than Uranus and Neptune. And we think they're like the ones like 1214, are like small versions of Neptune. But we want to study these to understand what they're made of and get some understanding of why they're commonly formed, but not in our solar system.
Thomas Greene: People have been trying that, they've been looking at this in the Hubble for quite a while. I think that Dr. Laura Kreidberg' student did some of the best Hubble spectra looked at this a long time, really hard down to, couldn't see features down to 20 parts per million. So it was very, very sensitive observations, and it looked really flat. You don't see, like in this spectrum we saw today from Wasp 96b, we see these big water features. I'm looking at the spectrum now, looks like it's something like 400 parts per million is the size of the water feature. And so Hubble looked down to 20 parts per million, many observations of this 1214 saw nothing. So there's a lot of clouds in this planet that probably aren't in this WASA. Because you know, water's probably there, it's a very common element, it should be its temperature.
Thomas Greene: So why is that? Probably a lot of the clouds. So what Webb is going to allow us to do is going to allow us to look at longer wavelengths that see through the clouds. And there have been many models put out about how, yeah, you're not going to see water at the Hubble wavelengths at around less than two microns. But when you get out to three to four microns, you'll be able to see the clouds become transparent and we should be able to see some other molecules, like some of these carbon varying molecules like methane and perhaps also carbon monoxide. So we'll see whether we see anything or not.
Mat Kaplan: You called this world a sub-Neptune. Would we also call it a super earth, or are those really two different classes of worlds?
Thomas Greene: Yeah. Those are getting divided into two separate classes. There was this guy who was a young astronomer, Benjamin Fulton did some great work to find out that there seems to be this gap in planetary radii discovered by Kepler of around 1.8 earth radii. And it depends a little bit on the kinds of stars they're around, but it looks like they're a number of planets, bigger than earth, but smaller than this 1.8 earth radii, that gets to be pretty big. I mean, that gets to be about 10 earth masses because as we know, the volume goes as a cube of radius. So mass is going to increase that way too.
Thomas Greene: And then if you get to bigger radii or masses, then you start to see another population that are probably these sub-Neptunes. Once you get to like a bigger than 1.8, we think those are gaseous. They look like they have lower densities. So it looks like those are probably more like big gassy atmospheres. They'll have some cores, maybe like a five or 10 earth mass, higher density core. And the ones less than 1.8 earth radii do appear to be rocky, they appear to be density.
Mat Kaplan: To do this work that you hope to accomplish with the JWST, how much time on the telescope or with the instruments are you going to need to gather this data? I mean, we heard a lot today about how much faster JWST is because it's such a huge light bucket.
Thomas Greene: Well, one interesting thing about, you can't hurry a transit. So the kinds of planets that are most amenable to study with James Webb are these transiting planets. And then the way that works, as a planet orbits star, the planet moves in front of the star. And we just look at the difference between when the planet is not in front of the star, when the planet is in front of the star. And then we can see a little bit of the star light going through the atmosphere of the planet. And that difference gives us the signal that we see in the spectrum. And that's what we see in today's image of this Wasp 96b spectrum. That's how they got it.
Thomas Greene: The transit will still take as long, but we'll get to higher quality data in each transit. In my own program, I think I've got about 215 hours for nine planets. And these planets range from things the size of the earth, or actually a little smaller on the earth, TRAPPIST-1b, all the way out to hot Jupiter HD189733 b. The interesting thing is that Hubble has done detailed observations of about 70 planets. Hubble and other observatories together, transiting planets, and that's over its lifetime. If you just look at the scheduled observations for Web, they're only going to be looking at 70 planets in the first year at longer wavelengths than Hubble and higher quality data. So it's just going to be a complete explosion.
Mat Kaplan: I'm thrilled, first of all, to hear that you're going to be examining one of those famous TRAPPIST 1 worlds, but also congratulations on being awarded so much time to do these observations with the telescope. Going back to that first world, the one that you're going to start looking at in August, when you describe what this infrared capability will enable us to do, peering through the clouds that are probably there, it made me think of what Cassini was able to do at Saturn or at Titan really that of course Voyager was not. Is that a good comparison?
Thomas Greene: Yes. In fact, I think there's even a transit observation of Titan by Cassini. Very, very small features because it is so cloudy, but they were able to like see methane in the atmosphere. I believe of Titan in this exactly analogous transit observation. But yes. So not only is it analogous in general by going there, but also even in the same technique has been implied
Mat Kaplan: With apologies to members of our audience who've heard this explanation, oh, probably many times before on our show and elsewhere, can you remind us? And you've already started with this. Why it's so important why the web was designed to observe in the infrared and what this is already doing for us, it's obvious in the images that were released.
Thomas Greene: Back even before Hubble was launched, people realize it was going to be important to follow up Hubble with a more powerful telescope. One of the big objectives of hub that it is largely brought home, but still we have a lot of questions is studying the early universe. You know, we want to know what are the first stars and galaxies like that formed in the universe. It's kind of a hard question because after the Big Bang at the beginning of the universe, it's pretty much only hydrogen and helium. It's difficult to form stars only with that. Right now a percent of the universe is mass and of gas is in heavier elements. Those heavy elements are crucial for forming stars. They don't weigh much, but they're important for allowing gas to cool and come together under gravity. So we want to understand these first objects and also understand how they evolved.
Thomas Greene: The universe is expanding. Objects that emit visible light like from hydrogen atoms, which you know were prevalent, there's strong lines and wavelengths we can see, there's a fundamental hydrogen line in the red wavelength range you can see, H alpha. That line gets red shifted in the early universe. So if you want to observe in the early universe, let's say a red shift of 10 is getting to where the universe is only a few hundred million years old. There was a redshift at eight galaxy revealed in one of the images today, that gets redshifted 11 times, its light gets redshifted 11 times longer because the universe is expanding away from us. It's the Doppler shift. Just like we hear, if you go down to the train tracks and you hear the train whistle go by, it sounds lower after it goes by because it's moving away and the sound gets stretched.
Thomas Greene: And just like that, the light gets stretched in the early universe. So something that emits in the red, like a hydrogen atom in its rest frame, it's going to be emitting 10 times longer wavelengths well into the infrared. So that's like at the boundary between near cam and mirror. So we realized it was going to be very important to get long wavelength capability, to be able to see these objects in the early universe. And the other thing is that the infrared allows us to see through a lot of dust, which is really important in star forming regions, which we saw that in these images, in the Carina Nebula, also in the Southern Ring Nebula, you can actually see the central star in the mid infrared images that you can't see in the near infrared. Finally, for a lot of these complex molecules just have their signatures, their spectral signatures in the infrared, like we were discussing these exoplanets.
Mat Kaplan: So a lot of great work that this is going to enable looking at electromagnetic radiation in this range. We got away from talking about these other images, they've surfaced briefly, but I think I want to get your thoughts about more of what was revealed this morning, as we speak, I'll tackle them in the order that people can find them on the NASA website where they're displayed and that starts with the Carina Nebula.
Thomas Greene: Yeah. That's an amazing image. There are actually Hubble images for comparison. One of the big differences of this one is you see all this frothy brown structure there? A lot of that in the mid infrared is being lit up by these polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. There's ultraviolet light from young stars that is hitting these large molecules. They're sorting in between the size of small molecules, like water and dust rates. And we see chains of them around. We think they're important for perhaps for the formation of life and just larger, more complex molecules. But you see that's where a lot of the energy is going from these young stars into lighting these up.
Thomas Greene: Another thing we see is a very well defined edge. You'll see that the top of that image, you see stars that are unobscured by dust, and you see some of the blue light that's this lightly scattered light. And then there's this hard edge where you start seeing the dust and these polycentric anharmonic cabin emission, the light from those young stars that are formed there is eating away at the dust causing this hard edge there. It's just really exciting to see that. So it's like the stars being born are destroying their own nursery, but it's also causing perhaps the gas that is in there to form stars also.
Mat Kaplan: It is absolutely gorgeous of course. And I hope that people will look at that comparison between the Hubble image and what the JW JWST has delivered already. It, it is just magnificent to be able to perceive that difference. Stephan's Quinte the dance of the, of these five galaxies that's underway, another stunning image.
Thomas Greene: This is like the closest sort of close association galaxies that are obviously interacting. The one on the left of that image is actually much closer. It's about 40 million light years away, which is only like it's less than 20 times further than the Adro to galaxy, which is the closest galaxy. Like our Milky way. The ones in the back are more like a hundred times further than ARA, like two 50 million light years away. The one on the left is different colors. We can see the stars in the ones on the left individually, which is just amazing. And then it's fundamentally... See different things in the ones on the right, the ones that are actually interacting.
Thomas Greene: What I really like to see is you can look at the NIRCam and the Miriam images separately. You see in the Miriam images, the stars sort of go away because they're hot and not as bright in the fart in the mid INFR. What you do see is sort of this glowing dust between the top two galaxies. And that's where the two galaxies are interacting. They're banging against each other. They're causing gas in their galaxies to compress, to heat and to form stars. So what we're seeing there is sort of like a version of what we're seeing in the Carina Nebula, but on a much larger scale. So it's the interaction, these galaxies it's causing new star formation. So I think that's really exciting.
Mat Kaplan: And beautiful as I said. The Southern Ring Nebula, that's the popular name for it anyway. We've seen lots of images of what dying stars can do, but I don't know that I've ever seen one, this detailed are quite this gorgeous.
Thomas Greene: Yeah, it really is gorgeous. One thing to keep in mind is if you look at the near cam and the Meri pictures next to each other, you'll see the structure that looks red, the outer structure that looks red in your cam, and it was blue. And my that's because they've just coded the colors. So what's blue in Mary is red in your cam, just because the mirror turns on at wavelengths that are longer than your cam. If you put that together in your mind, you can maybe understand a little better. You see two stars in the middle, in the mirror image. And indeed that red wine is the one that's causing all of this that is caused this big expansion of the atmosphere of the star. You see all these different shells and the outer structure where it's the expansion has sort of come in waves. And they're really well defined.
Mat Kaplan: That was as great as looking at the Nebula that surrounds them, being able to see that double star, right at the core of that gigantic structure. We already talked about wasp 96 B. So I'm going to jump to the first image that most of us got to see that deep field that was revealed in front of President Joe Biden just last night as we speak. Is that where we would find this galaxy you said that had the redshift of eight?
Thomas Greene: Exactly. Right. So if you go to the NASA webpage, the first image is the James Webb webpage. You can click on the image and get more information. This is more than just an image. And it really, I think it shows the kind of power that Webb brings through all of its instrument on a problem. So the image is beautiful. I think the primary image is NORcam, they also have the MIRI image. So you see the redder galaxies there and the more redshift ones show up. So what they did when they took this image, they looked at some of the really distorted galaxies. Cause those are the ones that are behind the cluster and the gravity of the cluster is distorting them into these art. The same image is made from many colors as we can see. Then what you could do is you could kind of compute these things called photometric redshift.
Thomas Greene: So all that means is you look at the different colors. You see which ones are probably brighter in the red than in the visible. They have these template galaxies and they could guesstimate the red shift by looking at the colors, because there's like this template. So if it's mostly hydrogen, you're not going to see wavelengths shorter than a certain color and you'll see the ones longer. And then you shift this whole thing and it matches up to a certain redshift. And then they actually took a spectra though. So then they did another observation with the near spec instrument. And this was a pretty quick turnaround. So they figured out which ones were likely to be oldest by having this red to blue ratio. And then they pointed the observatory. They took spectra. And from those spectra, they actually could say, "Yes." They could identify these individual lines of hydrogen and other species. And I think those are also shown on the more information page they did calculate a Redshift of 8.1, which is one of the oldest, most distant galaxies that we have a spectrum.
Mat Kaplan: And more to come obviously. And the other thing about that image that I love is looking at that distortion caused by the gravitational lensing. And as I tweeted, Albert Einstein would be so proud.
Thomas Greene: Very much so. And you can actually sort of see, there's multiple images of the same galaxy at times. Because you'll see something at about the same radius from the center on one side and the other, or along an arc at the same radius, those are likely, those could well be the same galaxy.
Mat Kaplan: Wow. Well, those are the images so far. We know there's much more coming, you know maybe better than anybody. I mean, they told us during the image reveal that the science goes on in fact on Thursday, I guess we're going to see some images from within our own solar system of Jupiter and elsewhere. There's so much more to look forward to, isn't there?
Thomas Greene: Yes, there is. So they are going be doing a big dump tonight of all of the images we took during commissioning. I think we've seen a lot of the highlights released before there. A lot of these are just kind of more boring instrument modes, but we did find some interesting things. And some of these calibration images, we just wanted to like calibrate the wavelengths of a spectroscopic mode and boom, there's a redshift of four or five galaxy, even in a short exposure. So we know that there's a lot out there. This was the first set of science images that were released. I know that there's more. When I was actually observing and doing some of these calibration observations, I know they took up at least 10, and we'll be giving those out over the next few weeks is my understanding.
Mat Kaplan: Very exciting. Tom, I saw that you're also a member of the JWST Users Committee. I wonder if you can tell us what that is, what it does.
Thomas Greene: James Webb Space Telescope is a very important mission. It's operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore. They also operate the Hubble Space Telescope through the science operations for Hubble. It's important that they get informed, that it's operated in a way that is going to bring out maximum science as seen by their users. And so there's a committee that gives advice both to the Space Telescope Science Institute, and also NASA about operation of the observatory. It's composed of mostly us people, but they're also Canadians and Europeans because they're also contributors to the observatory. And we look at issues so far before launch, we're looking at issues like what modes would be enabled and what order, there are also some more tricks up our sleeves. Some of the instruments can do things that we haven't activated yet. So that's one of the things that I'm really interested in as one of the instrument builders to see that we get these new capabilities enabled also about how the time is offered in terms of small, medium, and large programs to understand what, how we think the best science will emerge from the observatory.
Mat Kaplan: It's more evidence, I would guess of the sort of democratic nature of a project like the JWST that they're paying attention to those of you who in some ways know it best, but also want to learn the most from it. Indeed. I want to take it back closer to home. Well, right at home where you are at NASA Ames and see if before we close out here, if you can tell us something about this, the Ames Center for Exoplanet Studies, which you have directed.
Thomas Greene: Right. That was established during our previous center director, Pete Warden, who was a big exoplanet aficionado. He came, I think in 2008 or so, and was very interested in exoplanets. I had just worked on an exoplanet discovery proposal to look for new planets, new exoplanets. This is with the university of Arizona wasn't selected, but Pete was very interested. We, he wanted to make exoplanets a business line in, at Ames. We had the coupler mission was just about to launch it launched a year later in 2009, we actually seated a coronagraph laboratory. So now we have a laboratory names. That's developing technologies for a different kind of exo detection, direct detection, where you can bought out the star and see faint. Planet's really close to it. And this lab has been working on the Nancy Grace Roman telescope. It's going to launch in 2027 or so. It'll have a chronograph on it and working on technology for future missions as well.
Thomas Greene: So Pete was very on that. We put together the center for exoplanet studies to fuse a lot of this technology development. Along with missions. We also brought, had a role in the test mission during then as part of this, and also the science, when Kepler was going, we had brought in a lot of scientists talking about exoplanets. We wanted to make sure we kept on abreast of that. We started, I was co-founder with Natalie Bataglia of the bay area, exoplanet meetings. We've going to have our 10th anniversary meeting. We, we have, we've had 40 meetings so far, so quarterly since 2012. So this is all efforts by the game center for exo studies. Unfortunately, it's been, it has languished a bit since Pete warden left in 2015 and Ames has decided to close it. So I don't know whether they decided to get out of exoplanets as a business line or what, but it's looking like unfortunately, that is defunct now, but it was fun while it lasted.
Mat Kaplan: I'm sure it was. And I'm sorry to hear that's coming to an end. Pete Warden, of course, a former guest on planetary radio. And we've talked a lot about the Nancy Grace Roman Telescope, formerly known as W1st and how it will compliment work that we're now looking forward to from the JWST. I don't want to bring up what could be another downer, but also in your past, you were the project scientist for Sophia, that big infrared telescope built into the side of a 747. One of the greatest experiences of my professional life was getting to go along on a ride on Sophia, as some observations were being done with a couple of my colleagues. And then climbed around it one day, trying not to step on cables with our boss at the Society Bill Nye. As you know, it looks like Sophia's run, it's flight is coming to an end this coming fall, but there's plenty to celebrate here isn't there in what this has accomplished?
Thomas Greene: Kudos for doing your homework on me. But Sophia, yeah, has been great. I haven't flown on it. I actually, I was crawling around inside it when we were working on it, putting the telescope and whatnot. Yeah. In particular, Sophia has really opened up a lot of molecular anatomic spectroscopy in wavelength ranges that we just can't get to from the ground or in currently operating space missions. So the there's this mid infrared gap of like 30 microns beyond James Webb to like a few hundred microns. And we found probably like one of the first molecules to form in the universe there. Germany has developed a few pretty interesting instruments for it. We've also had some good US ones.
Thomas Greene: It is being used to study a lot of shock expectation in star-forming regions. And it has done some good science. It has opened a niche, particularly in molecular spectroscopy that we haven't had a view. Otherwise. Now every 10 years, these astronomers get together, figure out what they want to do. Next. We had a recent publication of a new decatal study. This is shepherd long by the national academies of science. There are plans for a future large infrared space home scope. It would probably be much more sensitive than Sophia, but probably won't see that until the 2040s or so this is these projects take a while.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. It's you definitely have to play the long game in this /business and we will do more to celebrate Sophia as it nears the end of its observations within our own atmosphere, but up at the top end of that atmosphere and Tom, I know that we will be talking much more over the coming years, maybe even decades about the great science that we have only started to see coming from the James web space telescope. And I would hope that we'll be able to check in with you again, particularly as you begin to get data related to your own observations, best of luck with that. And I don't have to wish you clear skies because you don't have to worry about skies, but I wish you the greatest of success.
Thomas Greene: Well, thank you, Matt. I enjoy talking to you and I do hope we talk again.
Mat Kaplan: Astrophysicist Tom Greene of the NASA Ames Research Center in California. Time for what's Up on this special edition of Planetary Radio, this special JWST edition. We are nevertheless still joined thank goodness by the chief scientist of The Planetary Society, Bruce Betts. Were you watching? Did you see those beautiful images?
Bruce Betts: Whoa.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. Best reaction all day.
Bruce Betts: Wow.
Mat Kaplan: No seriously, no kidding. Right? I mean that's exactly right. That's mind blowing.
Bruce Betts: They are. It's very exciting. The fact that the science that we're looking forward to is going to be so huge and that the engineering Marvel that is this beast of a telescope with this complex set of things to do, it actually works. It's spectacular. The pictures are beautiful. Hubble pictures on the surface can look as beautiful. But when you dig into what's in them, they're seeing things that Hubble nor Spitzer or others couldn't see due to the higher resolution, spatial resolution and the infrared wavelengths they're using. They're peering through dust clouds. They're doing spectroscopy of exoplanets, seeing so to speak water in the atmospheres. It's pretty darn cool.
Mat Kaplan: And how. So I suppose that you're not going to tell us to go out tonight and look for any of those galaxies that are 13 billion or more light years away, right?
Bruce Betts: True. Maybe just stick to the closest few hundred million, not light years, first few hundred million galaxies collect them all. Now we're going to focus much closer to home, but also still very cool. We've got four very bright planets visible with just your eyes. It does not require a multi-billion dollar space telescope to see these, although you'll just see them as dots, but they're really cool dots. And you can pull out some binoculars or telescopes and see more. We've got in the pre Don east going from the horizon up super bright Venus. And this it'll be fairly low to the horizon, but really bright reddish Mars, very bright Jupiter, and yellowish Saturn. And they're spreading out as the weeks go by across the sky. Still in approximately a line. Saturn is actually coming up in the late evening. Now every everyone's getting earlier except Venus, which is it'll go away at some point, but see it now collect them all. And hey, there's a moon.
Bruce Betts: Well, there are a lot of moons, but the moon, our moon will be visible, hanging out near all of them progressing by if you want to note the dates on the 15th, the moon is near Saturn 18th near Jupiter, 21st, very close to Mars, very, very close to Mars. And then the 26th, the moon is near Venus.
Mat Kaplan: Great summer sky. Thank you.
Bruce Betts: Onto this week in space history, it was a busy week in space history. Just some examples. 1965 Mariner 4 became the first successful fly by of Mars. 1969 something called Apollo 11 launched on a big rocket headed to the moon, and 2015 New Horizons did its fly by of the Pluto system, giving us spectacular views for the first time and only time up close and personal. We move on to random space fact?
Mat Kaplan: I assure you, it is.
Bruce Betts: Oh, okay. Good. It is. It's not that random, but it's definitely a space fact. JWST, the James Webb Space Telescope has a huge sun shield, diamond shaped, enormous, about the size of a tennis court. But what I want to tell you about is how effectively it does its job, which is cooling the detectors and the telescope because they operate largely in the infrared. You get much better signal to noise if you can get them nice and cool. It just pass away cools by reflecting away the light and radiating out to space down to less than 50 Kelvins at 50 Kelvins or the equivalent of 50 degrees Celsius above absolute zero. And that's good enough. Just the passive cooling for three out of four instruments on James Webb. The fourth instrument is a mid-infrared instrument and they use an active cooler using liquid helium to get it down to about seven Kelvins. And that's part of what enables them to get these spectacular images. Particularly often the infrared that we're seeing in these, these beautiful pictures released today and coming up in the future
Mat Kaplan: And don't worry folks. if I remember correctly, the liquid helium, it's not going to be lost to space. It's a closed system. That's why we don't have to worry about it running out of gas, literally.
Bruce Betts: Exactly. So that's a good point. Now, as I read somewhere, anyone, including me, way back in my history, who's dealt with helium and refrigerants on earth. It's going to be hard not to have leaks, but hopefully it won't even if it does, it should last for a very long time. Let us go on to the trivia contest. And I asked you, what are the names of the two cameras on the chia cube, or some permutation similar to that? The Italian cube sat companion to NASA's DART mission. While DART slams into an asteroid, the Lachia cube will try to take images of the impact and its two cameras have fun acronyms. And what are they Matt? How'd we do?
Mat Kaplan: Well, I'm not going to tell you, I'm going to let our Poet Laureate Dave Fairchild tell you, but, and Lucia cube, I mean, I forgot to ask my Italian wife once again the correct pronunciation, but I think you're right. But we'll take Lucia or whatever people want to say. Here's what Dave Fairchild said. There will be crashing and spaceships all dashing to asteroids far, far away as DART is approaching and also encroaching, Dimorphos, get out of my way. So who will be watching the noting and splotching, the violence done like a Vader? It's Luke and it's Leia, because they are the players observing the newly made crata.
Bruce Betts: Very impressive. Some dicey rhymes to make it all work, but I'll buy it.
Mat Kaplan: I'd say they were okay on the Dr. Seuss scale, I think they were up there. I think they did okay.
Bruce Betts: The content made it well worthwhile.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah, absolutely. So Luke and Leia.
Bruce Betts: Luke and Leia, Liciacube unit key explorer, and the Liciacube Explorer Imaging for Asteroid.
Mat Kaplan: Nice. I have a winner to tell you about as well and get this. He has been entering off and on since 2015, this is his first win. Richard Tolson in Nebraska. He got it. Leia and Luke, Luke and Leia, congratulations Richard. We are going to send you a copy of this great new book, Solar System Reference For Teens.
Bruce Betts: Never heard of it.
Mat Kaplan: I've enjoyed it. It's by the chief scientist of The Planetary Society. Dr. Bruce Betts.
Bruce Betts: Yay. We love him.
Mat Kaplan: I'm glad to hear that. I wonder sometimes I have, I have more here.
Bruce Betts: Oh, please share.
Mat Kaplan: Robert Klain in Arizona. He says there were a couple of instruments that they just didn't have room for on the cube set. Like the optical battery for infrared wavelength and nanometer measurement. Yeah. You got it, right? OB1.
Bruce Betts: One. Okay. OB one.
Mat Kaplan: OB1. So now you know what's coming. The other one is the Canadian assay for determination of extra planetary resources. Do-do-do, do-do-do, do-do-do. That's enough. Mel Powell in California. Another funny guy. How cool that sibling cameras are named for sibling characters. Oh wait, is that a spoiler? Don't read this on the show Matt, oh, too late. Sorry Matt.
Bruce Betts: Oh nice. Nice. Well done.
Mat Kaplan: Ason Biglou in Ontario, Canada. My research shows that these siblings are placed slightly apart from each other so that they can't attempt to kiss each other in any form.
Bruce Betts: Yeah. Good plan, if only they'd done that in the movies.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. What were you thinking, George? I got one more poem for you. This is another good one. I think from Gene Lewin in Washington, when it comes to redirection, this may be our only hope recorded by two Skywalkers. These twins will view the scope. Both will keep their distance observing they will be, oh wait, got to do that right. Observing they will be the impact of their parent dart into a Didymos binary. Once it strikes its target, Dimorphos will feel the force and cause a great disturbance from its projected course together. Luke and Leia from our friends in Italy will confirm that we can save the earth and we'll shout like a Wooki.
Bruce Betts: Wow. Very impressive.
Mat Kaplan: Very inspired stuff. We're ready for another one.
Bruce Betts: One of my typically very serious trivia questions. Generally speaking, what goal does the James web space telescope heat shield share with the packaging of the now retired McDonald's MC DLT burger go to planetary.org/radio contest.
Mat Kaplan: All right. One, there really was a MC DLT, I assume. Or you wouldn't have asked this and two, did you ever enjoy one?
Bruce Betts: Okay. Yes, there definitely was. And yes, I enjoyed many before they were banned from the world for tragedy. It was tragic. I still wake up dreaming of the MCD LT at times, but it'll last.
Mat Kaplan: I'm going to look it up. We can't get you a MCee LT. Apparently you the winner of this latest contest that you have until July 20, a very, a suspicious state, by the way, July 20, 20, 22 at 8:00 AM Pacific time to get us the answer. But what you will get if you enter in the way that Bruce is going to tell you in a moment, you will get your own copy assigned copy of solar system, reference for teens by Bruce Betts.
Bruce Betts: And just to clarify, you are using the ones I signed, right?
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. The ones I signed, we can't get rid of those for some reason.
Bruce Betts: You, you did sign over the top of my name on the cover.
Mat Kaplan: It's an old habit. I can't help it. Used to do it with spray paint.
Bruce Betts: Oh my, there's a story I haven't heard in all these years.
Mat Kaplan: Yeah. And you're not going to either. So how do people enter?
Bruce Betts: Go to planetary.org/radio contest and get us your entry. At some point in the future maybe by some year, may by sometime Mat will tell you.
Mat Kaplan: Well, by the 20th, by July 20th at 8:00 AM Pacific time.
Bruce Betts: Oh wait, You told me, that's an auspicious day, I just want to clarify that's not my birthday. Oh,
Mat Kaplan: I think we're done.
Bruce Betts: All right, everybody go out there, look up in the night sky and think about the power of paperclips.
Mat Kaplan: Oh, that's it.
Bruce Betts: That's a lot to think about. Thank you. And good night.
Mat Kaplan: I love paperclips. I love them for what they do. No moving parts, but there's so much you can do with them. As a kid you can turn them into so many things, including those little things that would flick your friends. I guess I shouldn't go into too much detail there, but anyway, I'm sure Bruce Betts knows all about what you can do with paperclips. They're incredible useful, as is he, the chief scientist of The Planetary Society who joins us every week here for What's Up.
Bruce Betts: Spray paint, friend flicking, who are you Mat Kaplan?
Mat Kaplan: Planetary Radio is produced by The Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, and is made possible by its members who see beyond the stars. Their 2020 vision began at planetary.org/join. Mark Hilverda and Rae Paoletta, associate producers. Josh Doyle composed our theme, which is arranged and performed by Pieter Schlosser.