ann11015 — Announcement

IAU writes to AAS, CASCA and EAS in support of JWST Science

26 July 2011

Following recent announcements concerning the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) the IAU has written to the Presidents of the American Astronomical Society, the Canadian Astronomical Society and the European Astronomical Society to express its support for the science goals of the JWST.  The text of the letter is:

The International Astronomical Union (IAU) Executive Committee is concerned by recent developments possibly affecting the future of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST).  Whilst it is not for the IAU to comment on matters which are the prerogative of National Members, it wishes to associate itself with the American Astronomical Society, the Canadian Astronomical Society and the European Astronomical Society in strongly supporting the scientific case for the JWST.

It is widely accepted that the Hubble Space Telescope and its discoveries have transformed astronomy and had enormous worldwide impact on the public appreciation of science. The JWST, as the proposed successor to the Hubble, has capabilities surpassing those of the Hubble and will enable astronomers worldwide to address the most pressing questions in modern astrophysics.  New technological advances by the JWST will enable fundamental discoveries of planets around other stars and the formation of the first structure in the early universe, topics of enormous public interest.  It is seen by the astronomical community as a cornerstone of humanity’s exploration of the cosmos for the coming decades, and its importance to science cannot be overstated. 

The IAU fully appreciates the current difficult economic times that now confront the world.  Nevertheless, the IAU strongly supports the completion of this vitally important international project.”

The EAS has said:

European astronomers follow with great concern the evolution of the situation of the JWST project, as they are convinced that its cancellation would cause severe damage to the advancement of astronomy worldwide.

JWST promises to be one of the world leading instruments for the coming decade in astronomy. Following on the achievements of the Hubble Space Telescope, it will focus on the many questions related to the origins of planets, stars and galaxies. It is expected to be unsurpassed in scope and capabilities. In addition, many major developments in world astronomy, like the ALMA array and the giant telescope E-ELT, are being designed and developed taking into account the  expected capabilities of JWST. Together these instruments will bring mankind to the next step in the understanding of the Cosmos. JWST is an essential part of this development. The loss of JWST would therefore damage astronomy in a major way in the USA, in Europe and in the world.

Many European astronomers and their funding agencies, together with colleagues in the USA and in Canada, have invested considerable resources and efforts in this project, in particular for the development of the MIRI and NIRSpec instruments.  European astronomers within the instrument teams, and also very many others with no project involvement, have planned research programs for the coming years building on JWST capabilities, trusting that it will be launched as planned.

It would be a tragedy if JWST ended up as unfinished space hardware in a museum, leaving generations of future young scientists to wonder what "might have been" had it flown in space. Astronomers are hopeful and confident that solutions can be found that will do justice to the efforts and funds  already invested worldwide in the JWST project.

The European Astronomical Society wishes to publicly express the concerns of its members about the current uncertainties affecting the development of the JWST mission. They also want to convey their hope that fruitful solutions will be found to complete and launch what promises to be a world leading astronomical observatory.

About the Announcement