October 31, 2011

Johns Hopkins Nobelists seek support for James Webb Telescope

Two Johns Hopkins Nobelists—Adam Riess and Riccardo Giacconi of the Krieger School’s Henry A. Rowland Department of Physics and Astronomy—participated in a press conference at the Maryland Science Center last week to support funding of the James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to launch in 2018.

The occasion was the unveiling of a permanent exhibit about the James Webb, called “the next generation Hubble Space Telescope.” The exhibit was donated to the science center by Northrop Grumman Corp., which is currently building the real thing under contract to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. (A life-size model of the JWST was on display outside the science center for 12 days in October.)

Riess pointed out that it was because of the Hubble that his High-z Supernova Research Team was able to make the “astounding discovery” that the expansion of the universe was speeding up, due to a “strange and mysterious” new component called dark energy.

“Dark energy comprises 73 percent of the universe and it’s still a giant mystery to us, and we look forward to using the James Webb Space Telescope to finish the job and to understand the nature of this dark energy,” he said, specifically thanking U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski for her steadfast support of the Hubble and now, the James Webb.

Speaking at the press conference, Mikulski said she expects that the Senate will pass a budget Nov. 1 that includes $500 million to support the new infrared telescope, which will be the most powerful space telescope ever built. It will allow astronomers to observe the universe’s most distant objects and will provide images of the first galaxies ever formed.