How do they decide on which direction to point the James Webb telescope?

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How do they decide on which direction to point the James Webb telescope?

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They are going to point it anywhere they want. There are lots and lots of things to look at, not just the cosmic microwave background but distant galaxies and quasars and black holes, and nearby exoplanets and nebulae, and all sorts of things. There will be a long line of requests from astronomers and astrophysicists to schedule time to “borrow” the telescope and study the object of their choosing.

By committee of course! Research proposals are submitted to a review board which then will rank them based on things like potential research value, etc. The end goal is to book as much of the telescope’s time as possible and to work out a schedule where it can move the most easily between points of observation. The telescope can’t point just anywhere at any given time as some areas of the sky are only visible during certain times of the year, meaning scheduling certain windows of observation is important.

There is a whole series of agreements between various bodies that have been involved in funding, building and running it. Some of them get guaranteed time to observe whatever they want, and presumably they have their own internal processes to decide how to use it. But the majority of the time is allocated by committees which examine the merits of proposals which can be sent in by anyone. The proposals are anonymised to try and avoid bias.

I think the person who is ultimately in charge has some ability to override the schedule if something really important comes up, like if a new ‘Oumuamua-type object is spotted.

Bear in mind that because of the need to keep the telescope pointed away from the Sun, it’s only capable of observing a certain ring-shaped area, covering about 40% of the sky, at any given time. So the scheduling has to account for that.

There are 6000 hours available for general observation. Unfortunately the proposal deadline was November 24, 2020. So you’ll need to wait for the next round.

Keep an eye on this site to submit: https://www.stsci.edu/jwst/science-planning/calls-for-proposals-and-policy

However, if you want to get in on Hubble, you have until March 25th
https://hst-docs.stsci.edu/hsp/hubble-space-telescope-call-for-proposals-for-cycle-30