Celebrating JWST's First Year of Science
It's both hard to believe it's been a whole year since JWST's First Images, and to imagine life without the amazing images and science it has enabled! So this blog post is WAY overdue, but what better time to reminisce and celebrate?!
This time last tear I had the honor and pleasure of attending the NASA Social event for JWST's First Images at the Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Greenbelt, Maryland along with a whirlwind tour of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in nearby Baltimore. Even after two decades of a career in science, this was one of the highlights.
| Selfie of Emily with a digital display of the Cosmic Cliffs Carina Nebula JWST image in the background. I'm smiling behind the mask, I promise!
In case they are new to you, NASA Socials are opportunities for the public to apply for special programming around a NASA event, like a launch, landing, or press release. You don't have to be an "influencer", but you are asked how you will share your experience with a wider audience. And you, Dear Reader, are part of my audience, so thank you for enabling this experience for me!
|Emily sitting on a green arm chair on a talk-show-like set with lots of nerdy props and the NASA worm logo in the background, dreaming about what could be...
At this NASA Social there were about two dozen people with a huge variety of careers & expertise: artists, astro-photographers, aerospace engineers, amateur astronomers, accessibility advocates - that that's just the beginning of the alphabet. I'm sure everyone took away something difference from the experience, but we definitely all enjoyed meeting new space enthusiasts.
|Selfie of Emily in an integration and testing facility at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, with a large poster of NASA's Roman Space Telescope in the background.
We attended the press release in an auditorium with the VIPs, which was a thrill. Seeing each image for the first time, and sharing our reactions, with a group who had invested so much of their careers to producing them was very special. I still remember the gasps from the audience when the emission spectra of some of the faint galaxies in the SMACS 0723 Galaxy Cluster image were shown - audible gasps, for spectra! The finale of the Carina Nebula brought tears to my eyes, no exaggeration. And to think that (rumor has it) that was a last-minute change after the White House requested to reveal an image the day before.
|Dr. Jane Rigby on screen at the JWST First Images press conference, with gold glitter hexagon headband boppers in the foreground.
After the big press event, our experience was only just getting started! We toured a bunch of the facilities at GSFC, weathered a storm overnight, then regrouped the next morning for more tours and a bus ride to STScI in Baltimore. Unfortunately our bus broke down on the highway, so we had an unplanned pit stop at a mall - grateful for the air conditioning! Our time at STScI was cut a bit short, but we wall got to visit the MOC (Mission Operations Center) and see JWST "in action", and our hosts from NASA helped us make the best of it.
| Emily poses sitting at the "MOM" workstation in the JWST Mission Operations Center. I didn't touch any buttons or spill anything!
Which brings me to my favorite part of the experience - the PEOPLE. Seeing, up close and personal just a tiny fraction of the teamwork and dedication that went into designing, building, testing, launching, and operation the unprecedented machine that is JWST was both heartwarming and inspiring. I'm lucky to have known some of the scientists for several years now, and it was wonderful to be able to see them, and meet others for the first time, in person and say congratulations, and thank you for your hard work and sacrifice.
|"Kuiper" Kat Troche takes a photograph of Emily posing in front of the Webb Rising stained glass artwok, hanging in a window at STScI.
After all, that is why STARtorialist exists. Not only because the Universe is beautiful and increasingly accessible with the instruments humans have built, but especially because we want celebrate those humans, and help us all share in this wonder and joy that both inspires and is inspired by science. So, thank you, fellow humans.
|Selfie of Emily wearing sparking gold hexagon bopper headband and pointing to gold hexagons in a shop window in the background, seeing gold hexagons everywhere back at home in NYC.