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Tim Kendall's Extreme Astrophysics

Multi-object spectroscopy with the James Webb Space Telescope

10 Jan 2019, 15:25 UTC
Multi-object spectroscopy with the James Webb Space Telescope
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

The microshutter array (MSA) on the NIRCam instrument of JWST. Each quadrant of the device is about the size of a postage stamp. Each shutter can be opened or closed by the application of a moving magnetic field. On the sky, multiplexed devices allow simultaneous spectroscopy of many objects. Importantly, bright objects in the field can be masked intentionally by closing one or more shutters, and their light will neither saturate the detector nor contaminate spectra of the fainter sources of interest. Only the light from sources of interest falls on the detector, solving one of the main historical problems of any form of multi-object astronomical spectroscopy. The are many astronomical applications, for example in measuring the redshifts of large numbers of very distant galaxies, or the chemistry of young brown dwarfs and free-floating exoplanets in star clusters. A significant use, which I have also covered in a previous post, is studying the astrochemistry (pdf) in molecular clouds in the interstellar medium. Thousands of ice spectra covering the bands of solid-state CO, CO2 and H2O would inform astrochemical models of the chemistry taking place in icy mantles on very cold dust grains in the coldest regions deep inside molecular clouds, ...

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