November 16, 2022

Across the universe

In July, as the first images from the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) began to reveal previously unseen details of the ancient cosmos, Beloit astronomers were watching with rapt attention.
  • Jupiter from the James Webb Space Telescope.
    NASA; image processing by Judy Schmidt

Bruce Balick’65 gave his reaction to the New York Times in two words: “I’m gobsmacked,” he said. His response was the “Quotation of the Day” on July 13, 2022. Balick is a professor emeritus of astronomy at the University of Washington.

Balick was a student of Dan Schroeder’55, who taught physics and astronomy at Beloit from 1963-1996. A noted astronomer and optical specialist, Schroeder is intimately familiar with space telescopes, having been on the Hubble telescope’s space scientist working group. “Hubble revolutionized astronomy,” he says, “and the Webb is going to do the same thing.” Schroeder, who is following the new telescope’s progress closely, notes that the JWST is located 1 million miles from Earth. He says Hubble was visited six times for repairs over the years, but that will not be possible for the JWST at its distance.

Professor of Astronomy Britt Scharringhausen calls the JWST “a magnificent instrument, poised to be just as important to the progress of astronomy as the Hubble Space Telescope.”

She’s especially excited to see what the telescope holds for planetary science. “Jupiter was imaged in a test of the spacecraft’s systems, and it was very exciting to see Jupiter’s faint rings in much finer detail than was ever possible with Hubble,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to seeing what the JWST can do with Uranus and Neptune, because their distance from Earth makes them very challenging to observe. Like Jupiter and Saturn, they have fascinating and unique ring systems. Being able to observe and monitor them over time will allow us to understand those systems much better, which, in turn, sheds light on the process of the formation of the planets in our Solar System around other stars.”


Also In This Issue

  • Jupiter from the James Webb Space Telescope.

    Across the universe

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  • President Scott Bierman

    Why Bother, Wisconsin? Because our democracy is worth it

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  • Annie Johnson-Goodwin’81 standing on the Beloit College sign in a turtle suit during Homecoming.

    Turtles, kazoos, museums, basketball, and pool tables

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