Canada's role in Webb
The James Webb Space Telescope is the most important space observatory of the next decade, serving astronomers from all over the world. It is an international collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
The CSA has contributed two important elements, built by Honeywell, to the Webb Telescope:
- the Fine Guidance Sensor (FGS), which allows the telescope to point at and focus on objects of interest
- the Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph (NIRISS), a scientific instrument that helps study many astronomical objects, from exoplanets to distant galaxies
In exchange, Canada receives a guaranteed share of Webb's observation time, making Canadian scientists some of the first to study data collected by the most advanced space telescope ever built.
Fine Guidance Sensor: Keeping Webb on target
The Canadian-made FGS allows Webb to:
- determine its position
- locate its celestial targets
- track moving targets
- remain steadily locked or pointed, with very high precision, on a specific celestial target
The FGS plays an important role in all scientific observations made by Webb and ensures the collection of clear and detailed pictures of celestial bodies in the universe.
Near-Infrared Imager and Slitless Spectrograph
The Canadian NIRISS instrument enables scientists to determine the composition of exoplanets' atmospheres, observe distant galaxies, and examine objects that are very close together.
Using a camera sensitive to infrared wavelengths, NIRISS captures the infrared light emitted by objects and gathers information about the spectra of distant planets.
A spectrum shows exactly how bright an object is at many different wavelengths, or colours. This gives detailed information on the characteristics of the observed object.
With the Webb Telescope, scientists will be able to determine if distant planets could be habitable based on whether or not their spectra show lines associated with certain molecules like water, carbon dioxide, methane and oxygen in their atmospheres.
The Canadian teams
The CSA is supporting the science team's operations. The science team is responsible for selecting scientific targets and goals that involve the use of the Canadian instrument NIRISS during guaranteed time observations made during Webb's lifetime.
The Canadian Webb science team is led by:
- Principal Investigator Dr. René Doyon, Université de Montréal
- Project Scientist Dr. Chris Willott, National Research Council Canada's Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre
Researchers from a number of universities and institutes are involved in the Canadian science team:
- National Research Council Canada's Herzberg Astronomy and Astrophysics Research Centre
- Saint Mary's University
- Université de Montréal
- University of Toronto
- York University
- Cornell University
- Space Telescope Science Institute
- University of Michigan
- University of Rochester
The FGS/NIRISS instrument team was responsible for designing and developing the Canadian contribution to Webb.
The integrated FGS/NIRISS unit was built and tested by Honeywell with the help of scientists and engineers from the CSA, the Université de Montréal, NASA, and the Space Telescope Science Institute.
The CSA is funding Canada's entire contribution to the space telescope, including the two Canadian hardware elements and the continued participation of instrument scientists.
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