Monday, July 25, 2011

The NIRCam Instrument

The NIRcam (Near Infrared Camera)
The James Webb Space Telescope has a number of scientific instruments and features that will help us to understand just what is going on out here in the Universe. First and foremost is the telescope - 18 gold-coated beryllium hexagonal mirrors, secondary mirrors, and other support structures that will comprise one of the most advanced optical machines ever built. Additionally, there is the ISIM and the Sunshield. The ISIM (Integrated Science Instrument Module) contains 4 scientific instruments. They are as follows:
  • NIRCam - The Near Infrared Camera
  • NIRSpec - The Near Infrared Spectrometer
  • MIRI - The Mid-Infrared Instrument
  • FGS-TFI - The Field Guidance Sensor Tunable Filter Camera
The NIRCam - the Near Infrared Camera - is one of the more important tools on the JWST. As the name implies, it will see in the Near Infrared portion of the spectrum.

What is Infrared Light? 

Generally, the infrared area of the electromagnetic spectrum (see left) is the area that covers the wavelength range from roughly 300 GHz (1 milimeter) to 400 THz (750 nanometers). It can be divided into three sub-regions:

  • Far-Infrared
  • Mid-Infrared
  • Near-Infrared
The wavelength of the infrared portion of the EM (EM = Electromagnetic) Spectrum is longer than that of visible light. Our eyes, evolved over hundreds of millions of years, never tuned into IR wavelenghts (IR = Infrared). Therefore, we cannot see IR without the aid of specially designed lenses and instruments that can block the visible light that we normally see. 

However, just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there. Infrared is usually part of most of the light that we see. The sun emits IR light along with the bright sunshine that blankets the Earth. As a result of constant light from the sun, many objects, plants and animals on the Earth will reflect IR light the same as light from the visible part of the EM spectrum. 

Bats emitting heat, as seen in IR
Importantly, IR light is given off when heat of a specific range of temperatures is reached. Since light is a form of radiation (energy radiating away from a source), atomic materials in the course of their normal atomic functions give off energy, which radiates out and can be seen somewhere on the EM Spectrum. IR light is specific to a certain range of energy or heat. Anything that is within a specific range of temperature will give off Infrared light in addition to other kinds of electromagnetic radiation (see right). 

Using Infrared Spectrum to Understand

Now that humanity understands what gives off IR light/radiation, we can use it to understand more about the world around us and to improve the technology we use. We use IR spectrum analysis to aim military drones at targets, to provide insight and details about a weather forecast, studying the efficiency of cell phone communication, night vision, television remotes, communication among computer devices, etc, etc...

Timeline of the Universe. Click to embiggen. 
Most telling for the JWST is that infrared can be used to greatly increase our understanding of the universe. Lots of things in the Universe happen all across the Electromagnetic Spectrum, including the Infrared. Importantly, lots of things DID happen in the Infrared, too, way back in the distant past of our 13 billion year old Universe. Much of the light from the early universe is coming to us still...even right now, at this moment. Our universe is SO OLD and SO MIND-POPPINGLY HUGE that light from the beginning of time is still traveling across the vastness of space and spilling across our Earth. When you look up into the sky, you are truly looking back in time. 

Simulation of JWST View
Since we can observe that the Universe is expanding (thanks in part to the Doppler Effect), anything moving away from us will emit light in the red end of the spectrum. Although Hubble helped us to understand that the expansion of the Universe is actually accelerating, the James Webb Space Telescope NIRcam will be the instrument that can see the details of that cosmological redshift. From the JWST Wikipedia entry: 

Looking beyond our own galaxy to more distant galaxy clusters, quasars, and gamma-ray bursts, the most distant objects viewable are also the "youngest," that is, they were formed during a time period closer in time to that of the Big Bang. We see them today because their light has taken billions of years to reach us. Because the universe is expanding, as the light travels it becomes red-shifted and are therefore easier to see if viewed in the infrared. JWST's infrared capabilities are expected to let it see all the way to the very first galaxies forming just a few hundred million years after the big bang.

The NIRCam

The Near Infrared Camera will focus on a particular area of the Infrared portion of the Electromagnetic Spectrum. It will be able to see right through cloudy nebulae and pick up many details in the night sky that Hubble and Spitzer cannot see. It will be this instrument aboard JWST that makes the difference.

NIRCam will fit inside the larger ISIM assembly/structure. It will reflect light through a series of implements that will eventually process the incoming image. Here is an image from the University of Arizona website (UA built the NIRCam) coupled with an explanation of the pathway the light will take provided by the Space Telescope Science Institute website (STSI will be running the NIRCam):

Click to Embiggen
The incoming light initially reflects off the pick-off mirror. Subsequently it passes through the collimator and the dichroic, which is used to split the light into the short (0.6-2.3µm) and long (2.4-5.0µm) wavelength light paths. Each of these two beams then passes through a pupil wheel and filter wheel combination, each beam having its own separate pupil and filter wheel. After this, the light passes through the camera corrector optics and is imaged (after reflecting off a fold flat in the short wavelength beam) onto the focal plane arrays (FPAs).

The NIRCam will be able to perform several basic operations. Those include:

  • two types of imaging (small source imaging and survey imaging)
  • coronagraphy (blocking out the main source of light to study the corona) 
  • spectroscopy (studying the composition of something through the light they reflect/give off) 
  • wavefront sensing (useful in aligning the primary mirrors. This is important for the life of the telescope and the quality of images received/produced...therefore this feature has some redundancies)
The NIRCam is also outfitted with Grisms (think prisms but with gratings so that only certain wavelengths of light can enter). With Grisms, "one and the same camera can be used both for imaging (without the grism) and spectroscopy (with the grism) without having to be moved" (wikipedia entry). Having the ability to perform spectroscopy in this way will make the JWST "especially useful for high precision spectrophotometric observations of transiting exoplanets" (from Observing Exoplanets with the JWST NIRCam Grisms). The JWST will not only study the general birth of the Universe, but look for and help study the birth of life. 

As of June 2011, the ISIM (which contains the NIRCam and the other science instruments) is 90% complete on manufacturing, with NASA contractors planning on ISIM instrument integration soon. 

More information on the NIRCam can be found at the following links: 

As always Science Warriors, it only takes 4 steps to save the JWST: 

 a) Sign the Petition
   b) Like the Facebook Page
   d) Spread the Word


Thursday, July 21, 2011

The saveJWST 4X5 Challenge!

Ladies and Gentlemen of the United States, 
The James Webb Space Telescope is in trouble

In order to bring awareness to the issue of saving the James Webb Space Telescope, our partners over at have begun the 4X5 Challenge. 

The 4X5 Challenge is this: "Over the next 4 days, we challenge you to get 5 people to write, call, email or meet with their congressional representatives about saving the James Webb Space Telescope. Once you've got your 5 people to contact their reps, then drop by the facebook page and leave the following message: 
I'm a Stellar Person. I've got my 5!
We will keep a tally and randomly select two of you stellar people for a cosmically cool prize!

The challenge ends at 11:59pm EDT on Saturday July 23 2011. The winners will be announced on Sunday. Good luck! 

As always, Space Warriors, do not forget the 4 steps to saving JWST: 

   a) Sign the Petition
   b) Like the Facebook Page
   d) Spread the Word


AURA Supports the JWST (and others as well!)

Ladies and Gentlemen of the United States of America,
The James Webb Space Telescope is in trouble.
Team portrait during testing phase for JWST mirrors back in April 2011. Click to embiggen

AURA - The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy - has produced a web page collecting some of the statements of support for the James Webb Space Telescope from various peoples and organizations. Their page contains a valuable set of links which are worth reading for anyone interested in saving the James Webb Space Telescope from Congress. The original text of the article:

AURA Reaction to Proposed Cancellation of JWST 
Today, AURA strongly objected to the proposal by the House Commerce, Justice, and Science Subcommittee to terminate the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). JWST remains the world's foremost effort to push the boundaries of astronomy and astrophysics.
Over the past year, NASA managers and the science community have undertaken a concerted effort to establish a budget and technology plan that allows the launch of JWST by 2018. The proposal by the Congress to terminate the program comes at a time when these efforts are coming to fruition. In addition, in June, NASA contractors completed the polishing and fabrication of all of the JWST mirrors completing one of the most challenging technical hurdles.
In commenting on the proposed cancellation, Dr. William S. Smith, President of the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy said "Against a backdrop of widespread discussion over the future of NASA and the human spaceflight program, it is tragic that the Congress is also proposing to curtail NASA's science program. JWST is NASA's premier science facility, unsurpassed by any other telescope now or in the future."
Dr. Dan Clemens of Boston University, Chair of the AURA Board, said "The science community has planned and eagerly anticipated JWST since it was identified as the highest priority astronomy program over a decade ago. The importance of its science has only increased since then. I hope that this year's final appropriations bill will provide the needed support to complete this program."

The page includes the following links, which are reproduced here:
House Committee On Justice, Commerce & Science Markup Materials
Statement by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a steadfast JWST Supporter
   (Find the Senator on Twitter @SenatorBarb)
Statement by the American Astronomical Society
Letter drom Dr. William Smith to the House Appropriations Committee
   (Dr. Smith is AURA president)
Statement from Congressman Steny Hoyer of Maryland
Statement by Congresswoman Donna Edwards of Maryland
   (Scroll down a bit...)
Space Telescope Science Institute Statement
Statement from the Canadian Astronomical Society 
   (Canada's own Space Agency is funding $750 Million to JWST)
Letter to the President's Science Advisor from JWST Advisory Committee
   (a must read)
List of these links as well as media coverage
   (also worth reading)

Remember, when contacting your representatives, do feel free to drop these names and organizations in your letter/email/phone call. It doesn't not hurt to mention that you "feel the same as the Canadian Astronomical Society" or that you "echo the sentiments of Senator Barbara Mikulski and Congress members Donna Edwards and Steny Hoyer. Whatever you include, JWST will be saved if you at least contact them.

Congratulations Atlantis!
Just wanted to give a quick acknowledgement to the Space Shuttle Atlantis Space Transportation System Mission 135. Atlantis and her four member crew just touched down at Florida's Kennedy Space Center a little over an hour ago (watched via NASA TV), ending the final Space Shuttle mission and ending of the Space Shuttle era. Atlantis herself logged in 33 flights for a total of 307 days in space, 4,848 orbits of the Earth, 125,935769 miles traveled. Some may be sad that America's manned space program is ending, but it is only a transition. We will be back. In the meantime, let's focus on getting the James Webb Space Telescope to fly, so that future astronauts will know more about where they are going =) Here is a video recording of Atlantis landing in Florida.

As always, Space Warriors, do not forget the 4 steps to saving JWST: 

   a) Sign the Petition
   b) Like the Facebook Page
   d) Spread the Word


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Video Montage of the saveJWST effort

This is a video compiled, produced and overall created not by a NASA graphics engineer or by a working member of the media. This was done by a concerned citizen who wants what the rest of us want: for the James Webb Space Telescope to fly. From the video's creator:

I want to go ahead and give permission here to any member of the Save the James Webb Telescope community to share, feature, or mirror this video on their own youtube channels, blogs, or websites [...] I have all the animation, script, and music credits listed in the description box of the video, along with links to sign the petition and how to contact Representatives - just be sure to copy and paste this information to give proper credit. Spread it 'round folks! - Ms. Mitchell

As always, Space Warriors, do not forget the 4 steps to saving JWST: 

   a) Sign the Petition
   b) Like the Facebook Page
   d) Spread the Word

Keep up the fight, Space warriors, 

Current Status of the James Webb Space Telescope

Greets Science Warriors,

This post is a review of a document NASA entitled "James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Program Status and Replan". It was compiled in order for the public and the Federal Government to assess the status of the JWST and its ability to move forward. Warning: The report contains many technical details. This post will try to focus on the overall idea of the report.

We are reviewing this report to counter the idea that the James Webb Space Telescope is behind schedule and over budget, that it is somehow easier to just scrap the project and leave it on the ground. It is true that the project has gone over budget. However, the telescope is on schedule and contrary the opinions of some, the hardest technical elements are completed. The real waste would be to leave it on the ground!
The full scale model at Goddard Space Flight Center. Click to embiggen. 

The report largely deals with the Telescope's replan. It reports that senior management had been replaced (see below), that a new schedule had been developed and that the JWST team were meeting deadlines within accepted costs according to that schedule. The report is a response to the assessment of the JWST by the group called the Independent Comprehensive Review Panel (ICRP). The ICRP "confirmed that there are no technical issues on JWST". In the document, NASA indicates that it has agreed with all the ICRP recommendations, which include:
  • Better transparency, cost control, and performance assessment
  • Replacement of senior management
  • Reorganized communication within top management and NASA HQ
  • Reassessment of budget
It is worth noting that the majority of the ICRP recommendations have been followed, with the last few items in progress at the time of the report.

The first six primary mirror segments being prepped for final cryogenic acceptance testing.
The report addresses the budget for JWST and includes comparison of budget projections based on each budget year from 2004 to 2012. 

The report indicates the status of all of the telescopes major components. The Telescope itself, Science Instruments, the Sunshield, and Spacecraft components are either completed or are approaching their completion dates. From the report: "75% (by mass) of the flight hardware is either ready to be fabricated, in fabrication, in test, or has been delivered". A few of the elements have, in fact, been completed ahead of schedule, according to the report. The primary mirrors, arguably one of the most important components aboard the JWST, have completed polishing by June 9, 2011 (additionally, the secondary mirrors have also completed polishing). 
Click to embiggen
The new budget affects the entire project. Changes were being made across the board. Part of the new plan to adjust to new budget realities included a new launch date. The former launch date was going to be in 2013. The new plan has the JWST launching in 2018. Some of the concerns NASA had with the replan included the following, which all stem from a new prolonged launch date: 
  • Due to the new launch date, there is concern over the possible loss of contractor personnel due to periods of inactivity
  • Involved people are worried that about storing the telescope components for such a long period of time and what inactivity and aging would do to the parts
  • Inability to plan around funding uncertainty that far out in the future, especially in light of the recent budget cuts to NASA (9% overall so far).

The replan summary from the actual report is as follows and are quoted directly from the report: 
  •  NASA has made significant changes in the management of JWST
  •  NASA has developed a replan with an October 2018 launch date
  •  Replan is on track to support the FY13 budget process
  •  Communications has greatly improved both with Centers and contractors, especially at senior management levels
  •  Assessment of alternatives completed – JWST remains is the best value
"JWST continues to make great progress, achieving milestones within cost and schedule"

The report also wanted to remind us that while the JWST is largely an American effort, there are a few other nations who have contributed significantly to this telescope. The European Space Agency has contributed $150 million USD to the effort. The Canadian Space Agency has contributed a very substantial $790 million USD. 

This has just been a brief summary of the report NASA has issued in response to its management reorganization, change in budget, and recommendations by the ICRP (see above) for the James Webb Space Telescope. For the full slide show, please follow this link. The telescope is almost ready. It would be a real blow to science, the working scientists here in the United States (and those who would come to the US), as well as the economy of the United States if this telescope were prevented from launching. 

As always, Space Warriors, do not forget the 4 steps to saving JWST: 

   a) Sign the Petition
   b) Like the Facebook Page
   d) Spread the Word

Stayed tuned for more information!

(see below for additional slides from the report)
Click to embiggen
Click to embiggen

The saveJWST Art Initiative

Ladies and Gentlemen of the United States of America,
The James Webb Space Telescope is in trouble

In order to help raise awareness, we have decided to launch an Art Initiative. For those that are interested, our sister site will be accepting and displaying publicly created artistic expressions relevant to saving the James Webb Space Telescope. If you are artistically inclined, or even if you are not and you just want this telescope to fly, then please feel free to make some art and to send it our way and we will post it for all the world to see.  

The rules are simple: 

1) No inappropriate images. This is vague, we know, especially in art. However, you know where most people draw the line and we would hope that you would respect that. People of all ages from all over the world will be able to see your art. 

2) Please keep it relevant to JWST. We want to save the Telescope from Congress and not detract from that fight. 

3) Art must be original. Please use your own work. 

4) No one will get paid or win anything. Understand that art submitted to us will not be used for commercial gain by us, or by anyone. Once it heads our way, we cannot be held responsible for financial losses or expected financial gain. You create this art and share it to help encourage public awareness ONLY. 

If you are interested, and we hope that you are, or if you have any questions, then please submit your artwork and/or questions to the following email address:

We look forward to seeing some great responses! 
And remember, check back with this blog for updates on the fight to save the James Webb Space Telescope. Also:
   a) Sign the Petition
   b) Like the Facebook Page
   d) Spread the Word

Continue the fight, Science Warriors,

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Why save the James Webb Space Telescope

Ladies and Gentlemen of the United States of America:

The James Webb Space Telescope is in trouble.

On July 13 2011, a Wednesday, the Appropriations Committee concerning Commerce, Justice, and Science of the United States House of Representatives (a small body inside the overall House) voted to include or exclude federal funding for several areas of life and business in the United States of America. They were preparing a bill that would affect the budget of the Federal Government, which will later be voted on in the overall House of Reps. One the elements chosen NOT to receive additional funding for this bill was the James Webb Space Telescope. It was the Adam Schiff amendment to FY 2012 funding that was rejected (Congressman Schiff is the representative of California's 29th district - home of NASA's JPL). Of all the things that happen in Congress, you may ask, why does this particular telescope matter above all the things that our Congress must worry about?

The JWST is important because it will go where no scientific instrument has gone before. Unlike the telescope before it, the Hubble, JWST will be able to see largley and extensively in the infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. This will allow it to peer into areas of the Universe that other telescopes cannot penetrate. For example:
Infrared observation will allow us to look with new eyes at cloudy portions of our galaxy and the universe overall to study what was once hidden to us by conventional telescope viewing. Also, the JWST will allow us to see "cooler" objects in the heavens. Cooler objects, a relative term, emit radiation primarily in the infrared. So, the JWST will give us brand new data on, as wikipedia indicates "the clouds of the interstellar medium, the "failed stars" called brown dwarfs, planets both in our own and other solar systems, and comets and Kuiper belt objects" (from wikipedia article). 

Importantly, the technological innovations on board the JWST and the placement of the Telescope at the L2 position is what gives the JWST the ability to see the nature of not just brown dwarfs and comets, but also the expanding universe (famously called Red Shift), which gives off clues in the infrared. 

Among those technological innovations, JWST will have a mirror that is comprised of 18 individual hexagonal mirrors and will be nearly 7 times larger than the mirror of its famous predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope. This mirror is not an ordinary mirror, but a highly complex system designed to adjust in order to perfect an incoming image. JWST will also have fancy infrared tools that will examine light at all areas of the infrared as well as a way to examine that light using spectroscopy (to understand what the objects are made of using the light wavelenghts those objects give off).

The technological innovations described above additionally allow JWST to study some of the new extrasolar planets we've started discovering over the last few years, as well as see all the way back in time to the first few hundred million years after the beginning of the universe and watch galaxies and solar systems form!. JWST is THE next step in astronomy and science (as Micheal S. Turner described on NPR's Science Friday Broadcast..."JWST was a Quantum Leap above the Hubble Space Telescope in every dimension"). Hubble, while still useful, will not last forever and cannot provide us with the kind of data that JWST can. It will allow us see farther, greater, better and help us answer those questions that humanity must understand if we are to survive...what is the universe? How did it form? What are the origins of life? Does life exist elsewhere? JWST will be THE flagship telescope for many years to come and will be used to provide answers for these questions about the fundamentals of the Universe as well as answers to questions we haven't thought up yet.

In addition to the hard science, this telescope will provide jobs for American science and research. If the JWST isn't launched, this will likely leave the United States dependent on other nations for its understanding of our place in the universe much like the famous issue with the Superconducting Super Collider (now the European Large Hadron Collider leads in this science research). Like the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope will be the pride of the United States, and an example of how and why this great nation should do great things. We are not just another nation that can occassionally visit space...the United States of America is the Premier Space-Faring Nation! And we owe it to ourselves and our children to see the JWST to completion.

A thousand years from now, no one will remember our partisan politics, our ideology, our cities, or our fascination with television and texting...but they will remember our contribution to science because our children will build their future on it. The future humans of Earth, and hopefully other places, will look back at the United States of America as the one group of humans that finally got humanity off the 3rd rock from the sun and out into cosmos. The JWST is that next great leap that will make this future a reality.

If you are interested in learning more about the JWST and what you can do, please spend a few minutes and check out the following links. However you help the JWST, remember...the most important thing you can do IS CALL YOUR REPRESENTATIVES. Contact them by email and by phone, then get a friend to do the same.


The Facebook Page
The Online Petition
The Tumblr Page
Contact Your Representatives Here
NASA Plan for JWST (official)

NASA Chief to Congress: Save This Telescope
The Astroglia Blog
Discover Magazine on Why We Need JWST
Phil Plait (@BadAstronomer) of Discover Magazine on Saving JWST
Wikipedia Entry for JWST
What the James Webb Telescope Means by Ethan Seigel
The American Scientist Article on JWST Defunding
Huffington Post Article Discussing JWST
Attempt to Save JWST Underway (Aviation Week Article)

The JWST NASA Trailer
The 5 Awesomes About JWST
Save the JWST by oStarStuff (awesome!)

Pay attention to this blog for further details, news, and more contents about saving the James Webb Space Telescope.