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Buy 2 or more classes at the same time and save 25% off the total.

Space Telescope: Opening Our Eyes to New Worlds

Save 25% when purchasing this with other classes from this Fall's semester.


Instructor: Mary Barsony
Mondays, May 6 – May 13, 3:00 – 5:00 PM, Berger Center
2-week session. Cost: $35

Course Description:
This course will look at the universe through the eyes of the James Webb Space Telescope and NASA’s DAWN mission to explore the two largest bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. The first class is an in- depth examination and explanation of the first five spectacular images from the JWST that were released to the public in July 2022. The second class will explore the spectacular images and data returned from asteroids Ceres and Vesta, including the insights gleaned regarding the formation and evolution of each body, and the formation of our own Solar system, 4.57 billion years ago.

Course Detail:

Week 1:

Christmas Day 2021 saw the flawless launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, to its home base at a gravitationally stable point ~700,000 miles beyond the Moon. A six-month commissioning period ensued, followed by NASA’s July 12, 2022 press release of JWST’s first five images. These were of the Carina Nebula star-forming region, the gravitationally interacting galaxies of Stephan’s Quintet, the planetary nebular end-of-life phase of Sun-like stars captured in the image of the Southern Ring Nebula, the spectrum of the exoplanetary atmosphere of Wasp 69-b, and the deepest and sharpest images of distant galaxies ever observed in the infrared through the gravitational lens of the galaxy cluster, SMACS 0723. The unique infrared capabilities of JWST will be explained to frame how the current frontiers of knowledge in each astronomical sub-field represented by these images is being revolutionized.

Topics covered:

Brief History of JWST development

Why infrared? JWST’s instruments JWST’s Four Science Themes explained:

  1. End of the “dark ages”: First light from stars and galaxies, re-ionization of the Universe
  2. The assembly of galaxies
    3. Birth of stars and protoplanetary systems
  3. Planetary systems and the origin of life

Week 2:

NASA’s DAWN mission was so-named because its goal was to explore the dawn of the Solar System by examining the two largest bodies in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.  Launched in 2007, DAWN arrived at its first target, Vesta, in 2011.  After orbiting Vesta for nearly a year, and profoundly changing our previous view of its composition and formation, DAWN used its unique ion propulsion rockets to depart Vesta and orbit the dwarf planet Ceres, where it arrived in 2015 and ended its mission in 2018. DAWN sent back spectacular images of both bodies, discovered a briny, sub-surface ocean on Ceres, organic materials delivered by impacts from the outer Solar System on both bodies, and has helped us understand the importance of location in the proto-solar nebula on the formation of bodies in our Solar System.  DAWN’s results will be the highlights of this course.

Topics covered include:

  • Introduction to the DAWN Mission
  • Temperature structure of proto-planetary disks and its influence on planet formation
  • How we date the age of the Solar System
  • The structure of rocky/terrestrial planets
  • Major events in Solar System formation
  • Meteorites from the asteroid, Vesta, and what we can infer about Vesta from these
  • What was known about the asteroids Ceres and Vesta before the DAWN mission
  • Mission objectives of the DAWN mission
  • The DAWN satellite: Its components, instruments, and ion-propulsion engines
  • What we learned at Vesta
  • What we learned at Ceres

Instructor Biography:
Mary helped draft the science justification for putting a mid-infrared instrument on the JWST and has the privilege of pursuing her research on star-formation with data from JWST’s MIRI (mid-infrared instrument) ~24 years later. Mary has been Principal Investigator at the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute and Adjunct Professor of Physics and Astronomy at San Francisco State University. She has also served as a faculty member in the physics departments at U.C. Riverside, Harvey Mudd College, and USC, preceded by postdoctoral appointments at Harvard and Berkeley. Her Physics Ph.D. is from Caltech and S.B. in physics from MIT.