More JWST Priorities

Image (Credit): This diagram shows Lucy’s orbital path in green after her October 2021 launch to visit the Trojan asteroids. (Southwest Research Institute)

Last week I noted some of the mission priorities in the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) first year. Those priorities were listed under “Exoplanets and Disks.” I thought I would highlight a few more, this time from the “Solar System Astronomy” list. Here are five more priorities:

  • Pluto’s Climate System with JWST;
  • The Moons of Uranus: A NIRSpec Investigation of Their Origins, Organic Constituents, and Possible Ocean World Activity;
  • A Pure Parallel Survey of Water in the Asteroid Belt;
  • DiSCo-TNOs: Discovering the Composition of the Trans-Neptunian Objects, Icy Embryos for Planet Formation; and
  • JWST Observations of Lucy Mission Targets.

Each of these priorities come with an explanation of the mission. For example, here is a little more about NASA’s Lucy mission from the JWST proposal:

The Lucy spacecraft – to be launched at approximately the same time as JWST – will perform the first ever in situ exploration of the Jupiter Trojan asteroids. Trojans are the largest population of solar system bodies currently unvisited by spacecraft, and revealing their composition and formation history is the key to untangling disparate hypothesis for the early dynamical evolution of the entire solar system.

Understanding these enigmatic bodies requires not just the high spatial resolution imagery and spectroscopy that will be afforded by Lucy, but also the superb near- and mid-infrared spectroscopy of which JWST is uniquely capable. The high signal-to-noise, high spectral resolution, and extended wavelength coverage beyond the capabilities of Lucy will allow JWST to sensitively probe the organic, carbonate, and silicate components of the surfaces of the Trojans. Meanwhile, the Lucy spectra and images will place these observations into their geological and historical context, greatly extending the scientific utility of both the JWST observations and the Lucy visit. Together these observations will paint a rich picture of this population, allowing us to trace connections with other bodies studied remotely and in situ across the solar system.

Lucy was launched last October and is expected to encounter its first Trojan asteroid until August 2027. You can find the full mission timeline here.