For the 6th meeting of the Astronomy Twitter Journal Club we decided to try something a little different – just a discussion about a topic rather than a paper. This was purely because we didn’t have time to pick and review a paper; it’s not a new direction! Normal service will resume on Thursday 28th July, 2011.
The discussion topic selected by a vote was the James Webb Space Telescope.
Recently, the US Congress released its Appropriations Bill, which covers science funding and in particular, decides how much funding NASA gets. The Bill includes the following statement:
The bill terminates funding for the James Webb Space Telescope, which is billions of dollars over budget and plagued by poor management.
So, is this a good idea? Was it expected? Is it a disaster?
On to the discussion… Ialso recommend reading the full Tweet archive – I didn’t cover all the points raised as this post was getting too long.
Is cancelling going to achieve anything?
It’s important to realize that even if JWST is eating up astrophysics money, the proposed cancellation does not restore one cent. – johngizis
would we *gain* anything by scrapping JWST? Money is lost, not redistributed – teagazer
Budget and costs – questions and points
How much over budget is it? – chris_tibbs
It’s way over budget. But the initial budget was unrealistic. – kashfarooq
Does anyone know the ratio between the money required to complete JWST and the money already invested? – chris_tibbs
Are there any alternatives?
nothing can match JWST in the mid-IR: 60-100x more sensitive than Spitzer for spectroscopy, at higher R – janerrigby
“We are rapidly approaching the limit of what can be done scientifically without the James Webb”
This was a quote from http://bit.ly/q4BIzv, and prompted the following exchange:
Erm – no we aren’t – tharries
Perhaps would be better to say we’re approaching the limit of what can be done at JWST wavelengths? – astronomyjc
Sorry, don’t agree with the wavelength argument either, we would just have to chose problems that are tractable. – tharries
i.e. ignore the science that requires wavelengths that can only be seen from space? – kashfarooq
define tractable. Manageable only if we stop pushing technology/science boundaries? Depressing thought. – vrooje
Astronomers rely on the goodwill of the public. I think JWST risks damaging this, particular given the current economic climate – tharries
Then we should do better at communicating why its important rather than scrap $billions already done – teagazer
Has there been much media coverage of the proposed cancellation in the US? How aware is the public of the problems? – astronomyjc
Our astro ambitions are ALWAYS constrained by economic realities. This is no different. – tharries
Public is very forgiving if the results are awesome. See HST again: cost overruns, faulty 1st implementation, but who remembers? – DrMRFrancis
If the images are as mind blowing as HST, everyone will forget the cost – kashfarooq
seems to me it doesn’t matter what we astronomers think: jwst hasn’t been effectively sold to American public and congress – Matt_Burleigh
Is anyone worried about the technical ambition?
Does the technical ambition worry anyone? Sending a huge mirror to L2 that has to unfold when it gets there? – kashfarooq
worrying – yes. but if we don’t try then it definitely won’t happen. – teagazer
Yes, absolutely. Makes me very nervous after the issues HST had, but many smaller unserviceable missions have been fine – vrooje
Yes, but we have to at least attempt it to find out. – chris_tibbs
This has always been a big worry 4 me. But JWST ppl have always insisted it can b done. They cant say anything else! I’ve been repeatedly told “military have done it many times”- Matt_Burleigh
Def. worrying but they must be pretty sure it will work – astronomyjc
the design/test/verification/redundancy requirements on space hardware is staggering. so much is done to mitigate risk. – sarahkendrew
And when it comes down to it the riskiest part of the whole thing is probably the launch – astronomyjc
Ariane 5 ECA current has 100% success rate (30 launches) – tharries
A great question from Sarah:
Signatures of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere of an exoplanet. Industrial/developing civilisation emissions. Not just life, intelligent life.- vrooje
Oxygen and Methane in an exoplanet’s atmosphere – kashfarooq
Tough call: unexpected is by def. unpredictable! 🙂 As a cosmologist, I’d love unexpected high-z discoveries. – DrMRFrancis
signature of life on a nearby exoEarth – Matt_Burleigh
Light from just 300 million years after the Big Bang… Wow. –kashfarooq
ALIENS!! (sorry, someone had to say it!) – astronomyjc
Exoplanet discoveries will definitely make the public forgive all! – DrMRFrancis
I vote for the FACE of GOD! should appeal to Congress 🙂 – sarahkendrew
I’ll end the post with this:
How do we get media, public to think about science? – janerrigby
Write about it — all of us. Anyone who cares about this stuff is an ambassador for science. – DrMRFrancis
And here is my contribution to that point.
- AO: Active Optics
- ELT: The European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope
- HST: Hubble Space Telescope
- JWST: James Webb Space Telescope
- MIRI: Mid-Infrared Instrument