2017 - Volume 34 - Issue 02

Like the rest of the Institute, excitement is building in the Office of Public Outreach (OPO) as the clock winds down for the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope. Our task is translating and sharing this excitement over groundbreaking engineering—and the scientific discoveries to come—with the public.

In the lead-up to Webb’s launch in Spring 2019, the Institute continues its work as the science and operations center for the mission.   The Institute has played a critical role in a number of recent Webb mission milestones.

Observations with the Hubble Space Telescope continue to be in great demand. This article discusses Cycle 24 observing programs and scheduling efficiency, maintaining COS productivity into the next decade, keeping Hubble operations smooth and efficient, and ensuring the freshness of Hubble archive data.


Hubble is in high demand and continues to add to our understanding of the universe. The peer-review proposal selection process plays a fundamental role in establishing a merit-based science program, and that is only possible thanks to the work and integrity of all the Time Allocation Committee (TAC) and review panel members, and the external reviewers. We present here the highlights of the Cycle 25 selection process.

In a reprise of the famous 1919 solar eclipse experiment that confirmed Einstein's general relativity, the nearby white dwarf, Stein 2051 B, passed very close to a background star in March 2014. As Stein 2051 B passed by, the background star's position was relativistically deflected and measured, confirming the physics of degenerate matter and providing a new tool for mass determinations of isolated stars.

Many of our products and services are designed and maintained as multi-mission products and services. This approach provides synergy between our missions, keeps the products and services modern, and builds upon operational experiences.

The Wide Field Infrared Survey Telescope (WFIRST) will provide a powerful tool for exploration and discovery. In June 2017, the Institute hosted a workshop to explore the big questions in astrophysics that WFIRST and other major astronomical facilities of the 2020s might address. These facilities identified possible opportunities for synergies over a broad range of astrophysics.

The Space Telescope Users Committee (STUC), which meets twice a year, is the primary avenue for communication between the Hubble Space Telescope program and the user community. This article summarizes the main topics discussed in Fall 2016 and Spring 2017.

Through the Community Missions Office, the Institute provides support for mission facets including data archives, Calls for Proposals, conducting Peer Review, observation scheduling, calibration, pipeline processing, mission planning, and also planning for future missions. Skills and lessons from Institute experience operating Hubble are applied to develop Webb, and benefit smaller missions (e.g., Kepler, TESS) based at other institutions. In this role, we organize and manage the work of the engineering branches and act as the scientific interface to the larger project.

In preparation for the Astro 2020 Decadal Survey, NASA has commissioned the study of four flagship missions spanning a wide range of observable wavelengths, including the Large UV/Optical/Infrared Surveyor (LUVOIR). Here we present a status update of the coronagraph instrument for the architecture "A" of the Large Ultra Violet Optical and near Infra Red Surveyor.


SpecViz is a Python tool for visualization and analysis of one-dimensional spectra. Created specifically for data from the NIRSpec and MIRI instruments on Webb, it is easy to use with spectra from other instruments. SpecViz provides a responsive visual environment in which users can quickly zoom in and out of regions of a 1D spectrum and make measurements of emission and absorption lines with mouse clicks. 

The Data Science Mission Office is approaching its first birthday. We want to take this opportunity to introduce ourselves, our backgrounds and interests, and some of the initial focus areas for the Institute's newest Mission Office.

Beginning this year, NASA combines the Einstein, Hubble and Sagan fellowships into a new program—the NASA Hubble Fellowship Program (NHFP). Like the fellowships it supersedes, the NHFP will support outstanding postdoctoral scientists to pursue independent research in any area of NASA Astrophysics, using theory, observation, experimentation, or instrumental development.

In November 2016, the Institute hosted a mini-workshop focused on high-contrast imaging techniques using space-based telescopes. Topics included discussions of high-contrast imaging instrumentation, image post-processing techniques, and high-contrast imaging of exoplanets and circumstellar disks.

The Institute hosted a science symposium from April 24–27, 2017 on The Lifecycle of Metals Throughout the Universe: Celebrating 50 Years of UV Astronomy.  This event focused on understanding metal production, transport, evolution, and distribution through the lens of UV astronomy.

Detecting the Unexpected: Discovery in the Era of Astronomically Big Data was a workshop held at the Institute in February 2017 aimed at discussing the scientific challenges to enabling the process of discovery in data sets too large to easily explore.

Traditionally, every few years, ESA, as part of the collaboration with NASA, organizes a high visibility scientific conference in Europe with the goal to give the Hubble user community an opportunity to gather, share their latest scientific results and discuss topics of common interest. This year, now extended to the partnership on the James Webb Space Telescope, Science with the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes: V was held in Venice.

The Institute hosted a science workshop entitled Spectral Diagnostics to Explore the Cosmic Dawn with JWST, from July 31–August 02, 2017.  This workshop brought together expert observers and theorists to discuss the spectral diagnostics and efficient strategies to maximize the Webb science for exploring high-redshift galaxies.

The Our Place in Space exhibit, a blend of striking Hubble images and art reflecting Hubble's influence on the public and culture, opened in Venice, Italy in February 2017 and moved to Chiavenna, Italy in May 2017. The exhibit has captured the imagination of visitors and engendered much positive commentary by the press and social media. Several notable events were held in conjunction with the exhibit in both locations.

Taking the term “Women in Astronomy” in the literal sense, a group of multi-disciplinary, multi-faceted professional women from Space Telescope Science Institute—in engineering, science, outreach, and human resources—collaborated to create and deliver a workshop for the Women in Astronomy IV conference in Austin, Texas in June of 2017.