James Webb Space Telescope

James Webb Space Telescope

Photo credit: NASA

The James Webb Space Telescope, also known simply as Webb, is the most complex and powerful space telescope ever built. Webb will allow researchers to capture images of some of the first galaxies ever formed by peering deeper into the Universe—and consequently back in time—to just 200 million years after the Big Bang.

Researchers from the National Research Council Canada (NRC) Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre have played an important role on the Canadian Webb team, led by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), contributing to both the science and technology behind the telescope. Once the telescope is commissioned and ready for science, several NRC astronomers are slated to lead research programs in the quest to better understand the Universe and our origins.

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Research using Webb

NRC astronomers are leading both guaranteed time observations and general observations.

Guaranteed Time
Project Researcher Hours
Canadian Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS) Unbiased Cluster Survey (CANUCS) Dr. Chris Willott
Principal Investigator
Planets in Formation Around Young Stars: NIRISS Aperture Masking Interferometry (AMI) Observations of Transition Disk Systems Dr. Doug Johnstone
Principal Investigator
General observations – Cycle 1
Project Researcher Hours
Unveiling Stellar Light from Host Galaxies of z~6 Quasars Dr. Madeline Marshall
Principal Investigator
Do Massive Black Holes Come in Small Packages? A Census of Black Holes in Compact Stellar Systems in the Virgo Cluster Dr. Patrick Côté
Co-Principal Investigator
An Ultra-Sensitive Pencil Beam Search for 10 km Trans-Neptunian Objects Dr. Wesley Fraser
Co-Principal Investigator

NRC contributions to James Webb Space Telescope

The NRC has played an important role on both the Canadian Webb science and instrumentation teams.

Science Team

The NRC has played a leadership role in the science mission for Webb from the earliest days. As co-lead of the Science team, NRC's Dr. John Hutchings, and later Dr. Chris Willott, have helped to define the science targets and goals for NIRISS, 1 of 2 instruments Canada developed for Webb.

  • Dr. Chris Willott
    Canadian Webb project scientist
  • Dr. John Hutchings
    Canadian Webb project scientist

Instrumentation Team

Canada is contributing 2 important elements to Webb. NRC's scientists and engineers have been an integral part of the instrumentation team, including designing the guidance technology that Canada is providing to Webb.

  • Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS): The FGS can select a star from a catalogue of nearly 1 billion, and allow astronomers to determine its position, locate the target and track moving targets, and remain steadily locked on it, with very high precision. A team of astronomers at the NRC developed the optical design and performance of the FGS.
  • Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS): NIRISS is a scientific instrument designed to probe many astronomical objects, from exoplanets to distant galaxies. Using a camera sensitive to infrared wavelengths, NIRISS will capture the infrared light emitted by objects and gather information about their spectra. NRC contributed to the NIRISS instrumentation team, including developing the wide-field slitless spectroscopy mode.

Archiving public data from Webb

Once Webb begins astronomical observations, all publicly available data will be archived in the NRC's Canadian Astronomy Data Centre (CADC), one of 2 international archive hosts. While obtaining time on Webb is highly competitive, the public data shared on the CADC will allow astronomers around the world to benefit from the first rounds of research data. In addition, the CADC's Webb Science Portal will provide Canadian users with the specific tools and resources needed to analyze Webb data.

The CADC has a long history of working with NASA—in fact, the CADC was originally created to archive data from Webb's predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope, and make that data accessible to users around the world. The detailed information that describes every Hubble and Webb observation uses the Common Archive Observation Model developed by the CADC.

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