UConn professors explore the universe with NASA

UConn physics professors Katherine Whitaker and Jonathan Trump are working with NASA and the James Webb Space Telescope to explore the universe. (Ryan Wick/Creative Commons)

UConn physics professors Katherine Whitaker and Jonathan Trump are working with NASA and the James Webb Space Telescope to explore the universe. (Ryan Wick/Creative Commons)

University of Connecticut physics professors Katherine Whitaker, PhD and Jonathan Trump, PhD are among a group of scientists working to explore the universe with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) through the National Aeronautics Space Administration (NASA).

The JWST is set to launch in the spring of 2018, according to Whitaker, who is a science investigator on the team. Whitaker’s team is working to target galaxies that are stretched across the sky and brightened by clusters of galaxies in our line of sight.

“I bring expertise...in the correlations we observe for overall galaxy populations across cosmic time,” Whitaker said. “With (the JWST) data, we can directly test how well we are measuring the rate at which new stars are formed.”

Trump is a co-investigator in the Cosmic Evolution Early Release (CEERS) survey. He is in charge of investigating science about the black hole content and gas properties of distant galaxies.

NASA selected teams to be experts on details of observing through the telescope, Whitaker said. These experts will be able to provide the astronomical community with data reduction tools, science quality images and spectroscopy.

“Much about the early universe remains mysterious,” Trump said. “CEERS will be able to answer questions like, ‘Where do the first stars form, (and) when do the first supermassive black holes form?’”

JWST and the CEERS survey will be the first to “survey the early Universe,” Trump said. He predicts the JWST will likely discover things in the Universe we haven’t even dreamed about.

Whitaker said she is optimistic about what the JWST will do for the future of science.

“(The JWST) opens up a whole new window into our universe,” Whitaker said. “(JWST) will finally provide us with near to mid-infrared spectroscopy and imaging that is critical to exploring the first galaxies.”

Trump describes the JWST as a “huge investment,” costing around $10 billion.

“This particular Early Release Science program is funded by the director of the Space Telescope Science Institute,” Whitaker said.

Data from the JWST will immediately be available to the community, according to Whitaker. Various teams will then release higher quality data products as they become available.

“The open data policy is great,” Whitaker said. “It means that students can get involved in this amazing endeavor.”


Ashley Anglisano is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at ashley.anglisano@uconn.edu.