ASU selected to host NASA events for James Webb Space Telescope launch

Artist's conception of the James Webb Space Telescope.

Artist's conception of the James Webb Space Telescope. Photo courtesy of NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez


The James Webb Space Telescope is the largest, most powerful and complex space science telescope ever built. It is targeted to launch into space from Kourou, French Guiana, on Dec. 18. 

Webb will serve as the premier deep space observatory for the next decade, exploring every phase of cosmic history — from within our solar system to the most distant observable galaxies in the early universe, and everything in between.

Arizona State University Regents Professor Rogier Windhorst of the School of Earth and Space Exploration is a co-investigator and interdisciplinary scientist for Webb. He is joined by research scientist Rolf Jansen and assistant research scientist Seth Cohen, along with a team of ASU undergraduate and graduate students working on this mission.   

In honor of this historic launch and to highlight ASU’s involvement in this mission, the university is joining nearly 500 event hosts across the nation that were selected by NASA to provide a series of events celebrating Webb and highlighting the scientists behind the telescope. 

NASA’s Science Activation (SciAct) program, a community-based approach to connect NASA science with learners of all ages, is leading the national efforts to celebrate the launch of Webb and to showcase the mission. 

“We are excited about a new approach where nearly 500 communities hear firsthand the ‘behind the scenes’ story about this incredible mission from science experts,” said Kristen Erickson, director of science engagement and partnerships at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. “Partnering with these communities at the beginning of Webb’s journey will also provide insights about how we can co-create opportunities together for Arizona and the nation.” 

To encourage participation in Webb events across Arizona, and in conjunction with four of ASU’s SciAct projects, including ASU’s School of Earth and Space Exploration SCoPE and Infiniscope projects, the school has created a Webb calendar of events with 15 NASA-selected hosts across the state.

K-12 students are encouraged to download the Webb Passport to the Stars and attend at least three NASA Webb events in Arizona. K-12 students will then be eligible to win Webb prizes including posters, a VIP-only “Ask Me Anything about Webb” event with ASU scientists and a NASA mystery prize. 

K-12 students who download the Webb Passport to the Stars and attend at least three Webb events will be eligible for prizes from ASU and NASA.

“ASU has strong community partnerships across the state of Arizona that are enabled by the NASA Science Activation teams,” said Jessica Swann, deputy principal investigator for SciAct engagement on the SCoPE team and community manager for the Infiniscope project. “Webb is an excellent opportunity to activate these different communities to bring the science and engineering of this mission to learners of all ages and backgrounds. We are excited to have ASU leading the charge across Arizona."

In addition to Webb events being held across the state, there are several upcoming opportunities through ASU that are free, held virtually and open to the public. 

The first Webb event ASU will host is the fall 2021 New Discoveries Lecture at 7 p.m. Oct. 7. This lecture will feature a panel discussion, with a Q&A session on Webb with ASU scientists and students who work on the telescope mission, including Windhorst. 

“For over two decades, the ASU Webb team has been involved with NASA in defining the science case for the Webb telescope,” Windhorst said. “In addition to revealing the secrets of targets that we have planned for Webb to observe, perhaps most importantly, we hope that Webb will rewrite the science textbooks in ways that we could not have foreseen.''

Following this lecture, School of Earth and Space Exploration graduate students will host the fall 2021 Earth and Space Open House from 6 to 8 p.m., Oct. 22. This virtual event will feature experts in the earth and space sciences, with a special focus on the Webb telescope. During this event, attendees will have the opportunity to talk with scientists and explore the latest research from the school.

Then, in partnership with the Maricopa County Library District, ASU postdoctoral scholar Tim Carleton and undergraduate student Liam Nolan will present “The Universe Beyond Hubble," at 6 p.m., Oct. 26. During this event they will share research that they and their collaborators conduct related to Webb.

And lastly, on Nov. 13, the school will host the annual Earth and Space Exploration Day. Faculty, research scientists, staff, graduate students and undergraduate students will be on hand to showcase the latest research in earth and space science, and a special presentation will be given by scientists working on Webb. Details on this event will be available on the school’s event page, where launch event information will also be posted.  

“If you are fascinated by the mysteries of the universe, or have school-age kids who are naturally curious about everything, I encourage you to explore our Webb calendar of events," said Meenakshi Wadhwa, director of the School of Earth and Space Exploration and principal investigator of the SCoPE SciAct project. “It's very likely that you will find some exciting virtual or in-person events to participate in between now and December.”

About the James Webb Space Telescope

The James Webb Space Telescope will be the world's premier space science observatory when it launches in 2021. Webb will solve mysteries in our solar system, look beyond to distant worlds around other stars and probe the mysterious structures and origins of our universe and our place in it. Webb is an international program led by NASA with its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency. Visit the NASA James Webb Space Telescope site to learn more.

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