UCF-led workshop will help scientists learn to use James Webb Space Telescope

UCF researcher among few selected to attend Master Class for telescope

In this photo from April 2015, NASA technicians lifted the James Webb Space Telescope using a crane and moved it inside a clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
In this photo from April 2015, NASA technicians lifted the James Webb Space Telescope using a crane and moved it inside a clean room at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. (NASA)

ORLANDO, Fla. – University of Central Florida will soon become a key resource in training researchers wanting to use the world's most advanced space telescope.

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled to launch in 2021, is an infrared observatory orbiting the sun from a position 1 million miles from Earth.

The telescope will follow in the footsteps of the current most powerful space observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope. James Webb is expected to have increased sensitivity and viewing capabilities over Hubble.

Planetary scientists and astronomers are already itching to use the James Webb Space Telescope for their research.

To help streamline applications to use the telescope the Space Telescope Science Institute introduced the JWST Master Class. The institute in Baltimore currently helps guide Hubble science operations.

Several UCF scientists and graduate students lead UCF's proposal for the master class.

Estela Fernández-Valenzuela, a UCF postdoctoral researcher, won a spot in the first JWST Master Class offered by the Space Telescope Science Institute. Once Fernández-Valenzuela completes the workshop, she will work with teams at UCF and the National Science Foundation-owned Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico to lead a James Webb workshop and share the knowledge.

"It is great to know that I will be learning from the scientists that are involved in the construction of such a great telescope, and I feel quite fortunate," Fernández-Valenzuela said.

Of the 60 proposal applications submitted only 28 were selected. Those selected hail from the U.S. and Central and South America.

"I came to UCF from the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía (in Spain) looking for new opportunities to develop the research I am devoted to, and to open new collaborations with experienced researchers in my field in order to learn from them," Fernández-Valenzuela said. "I have been working quite hard during the last years, and being selected is a sign that this work is paying off."

Fernández-Valenzuela's and the other 27 selected researchers will help guide the large quantities of scientists expected to draft proposals to use the telescope.

The four and a half day Master Class will teach the selected researchers on proposal planning tools, resources and documentation relevant to the telescope and being able to access it. In turn, these researchers would take their training back home and share what they learned with local scientists.

Fernández-Valenzuela's said she had about 90 scientists from Florida, Puerto Rico and other local areas show interest in an Orlando-based workshop that would be held in the beginning of 2020.

Writing a successful proposal for access to the JWST is not only about having a good idea, Fernández-Valenzuela's said. Understanding the complex instrumentation of the Space Telescope will be key, something she will be streamlining for other scientists.

Noemi Pinilla-Alonso, of the Florida Space Institute, said she is excited that her post-doctoral student was selected for the Master Class, and that the Webb telescope provides a unique opportunity.

"The real advantage of JWST is not the quality of the images, but its sensitivity that is a product of two main factors," Pinella Alonso said. "First, its primary mirror is way larger than the one on Hubble. And second, it will observe the universe in the near infrared red and not in the optical wavelengths. This will enable us to look further in the universe, which means watching older objects."

On Wednesday, NASA released a news release stating the JWST will provide high quality images of the Milky Way's center, something previous telescopes on the ground and in space have been unable to do.

According to NASA, the added viewing capability from Webb would allow for a better look of the massive black hole at our galaxy's center or something unexpected.