Science Update - Stars, Planets and Space Telescopes

The Naked Scientists spoke to Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon, AAAS, the Science Society
10 December 2006

Interview with 

Chelsea Wald and Bob Hirshon, AAAS, the Science Society


Bob - This week for the Naked Scientists, Science Update goes to outer space. I'll talk about the telescope that's going to take over from the Hubble Space Telescope. But first, Chelsea tells us what scientists are learning about what stars and planets are made of.

Chelsea - Scientists have found a new ingredient in the increasingly strange and complex interstellar soup. It's a negatively charged molecule-meaning it's managed to hold onto an extra electron despite being assaulted by radiation that would tend to knock it off. Astrophysicist Patrick Thaddeus of the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory says it's the first of its kind found in the large molecular clouds that percolate in space.

Patrick - These are the factories out of which stars are being made continuously in a galaxy like ours and presumably over the whole face of the universe.

Chelsea - They've already found the molecule in two clouds and expect to find it and possibly other negatively charged molecules elsewhere. Learning about this interstellar mix helps scientists know more about the ingredients that went into cooking up our Sun, the Earth, and ultimately, us.

James Webb Space Telescope
The propsed James Webb Space Telescope to supercede the Hubble Space Telescope

Bob - Thanks, Chelsea. NASA recently announced that it will service the Hubble Space Telescope one more time, meaning we'll have seven more years of its stunning images. But what comes after that? All eyes are on the James Webb Space Telescope, which will have a mirror seven times larger than Hubble's. It's designed to look at the youngest galaxies in the universe and see how planets form. Pam Sullivan, a manager for the telescope, says NASA engineers are already hard at work.

Pam - 2006 is actually the big year for us in that we're trying to demonstrate all of our technologies. We've got 10 what we call enabling technologies-things that we have to invent, basically, for the James Webb Space Telescope to work, and we're on track to finish up that this year.

Bob - If things go according to plan, the JWST will launch in 2013, just in time to take over from Hubble.

Chelsea - Thanks, Bob. We'll be back next week, when we'll grant people's Christmas wishes by answering some of their most pressing science questions. Until then, I'm Chelsea Wald.

Bob - And I'm Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, The Science Society. Back to you, Naked Scientists.


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