'NASA's Next Great Observatory' is focus of lecture on Sept. 13

September 06, 2012

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A free presentation titled "James Webb Space Telescope: NASA's Next Great Observatory" will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 13, in 100 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park campus. The program will be presented by Heidi Hammel, the executive vice president of AURA, Inc (The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy). This event is part of the 2012-13 Friedman Lecture Series in Astronomy, which is free and open to the public.

The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) is being planned as the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which now is more than 20 years old. Hammel is one of the six designated Interdisciplinary Scientists for this cutting-edge facility, which is scheduled to launch in 2018. In her presentation, Hammel will describe the science capabilities of the James Webb Space Telescope, some of which include the abilities to examine planets around other stars to investigate their potential for life, to measure water in the atmospheres of planets orbiting other stars, to explore how stars are born and how they develop planetary systems, to detect the light of the first galaxies to form in the universe, and to study planets and other objects in our own Solar System. Hammel's presentation will include images and videos to show the progress of the James Webb Space Telescope's construction and assembly.

The scientific equipment of the James Webb Space Telescope will include several cameras for producing amazing images in the tradition of the Hubble Space Telescope. This innovative telescope represents a major step forward in technology, with a segmented mirror three times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope's and a location in space about a million miles away from Earth.

"Many of us here at Penn State are eagerly anticipating the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, and we are excited that Dr. Hammel can update the Penn State community on its current status," said Chris Palma, senior lecturer of astronomy and astrophysics.

Hammel was profiled by the New York Times in 2008 and by Newsweek in 2007, and was identified as one of the 50 most important women in science by Discover magazine in 2002. She was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2000. In 1996, she received the Urey Prize from the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences. Hammel's honors for her work in public outreach include the 2002 Sagan Medal for outstanding communication to the general public by an active planetary scientist, the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's 1995 Klumpke-Roberts Award for public understanding and appreciation of astronomy, the 1996 "Spirit of American Women" National Award for encouraging young women to follow nontraditional career paths, and the San Francisco Exploratorium's 1998 Public Understanding of Science Award. The asteroid "1981 EC20" has been renamed 3530 Hammel in her honor.

Hammel was a member of the Imaging Science Team during the Voyager 2 encounter with Neptune in 1989. She led the Hubble Space Telescope team that investigated Jupiter's atmospheric response to the impact of Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in July 1994; in 2009, she was also the first science user of the refurbished Hubble Space Telescope to again image Jupiter in the aftermath of a collision. Her current research involves studies of Uranus and Neptune with Hubble, the Keck 10-m telescope, and other Earth-based observatories. She is an Interdisciplinary Scientist for Hubble's successor, the James Webb Space Telescope. For the Planetary Decadal Survey published by the U.S. National Research Council in 2011, Hammel led the Giant Planets Panel; in that role, she was involved in designing and characterizing a number of mission studies for exploration of the outer Solar System.

Jason Wright, assistant professor of astronomy and astrophysics, said "We're thrilled to have such a distinguished and award-winning scientist as Dr. Hammel visit Penn State to discuss the project that will become the crown jewel of astronomy, the James Webb Space Telescope. Dr. Hammel is an engaging public speaker who makes even advanced astrophysics approachable and inspiring for everyone."

Hammel received her undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1982 and her Ph.D. in physics and astronomy from the University of Hawaii in 1988. After a postdoctoral position at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, Hammel returned to MIT, where she spent nearly nine years as a principal research scientist in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. She then worked as a senior research scientist and co-director of research at the Space Science Institute in Colorado until joining AURA in 2011.

This presentation is hosted by the Penn State Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics and is funded largely by the Ronald M. and Susan J. Friedman Outreach Fund in Astronomy. Ronald Friedman is a member of the department's Board of Visitors. For more information, contact Chris Palma at cxp137@psu.edu, 814-865-2255 (phone), or 814-863-3399 (fax).

  • Heidi Hammel will deliver the 2012 Friedman Lecture on Sept. 13.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated January 09, 2015