An artist’s concept of the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) at work in deep space. Image contains elements furnished by NASA. Credit: gre jak/Alamy Stock Photo
Last week on May 10 astronomers learned if their proposals for the telescope’s second year of science were successful. Competition was fierce, and while there were plenty of winners and some incredible science set to be conducted, there were many more who missed out on JWST’s “Cycle 2,” which starts next month. “There was an extraordinary response from the science community,” says Nancy Levenson, interim director of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Maryland, which runs JWST.
Rohan Naidu’s program, which he co-leads with Jorryt Matthee of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), will use a giant cluster of galaxies called Abell 2744 to gravitationally magnify the light of some smaller objects up to 750 million years after the big bang. The goal is to look for clumps of primordial gas, which could contain clusters of Population III stars—the first stellar generation thought to have lit up the universe. These long-theorized objects have yet to be directly seen but are expected to be composed almost entirely of pure hydrogen and helium—which should allow them to be enormous, each weighing in hundreds of times heavier than our sun. “We’re really pushing JWST to the hilt,” Naidu says. “We’ll get back some very promising regions that might be hosting these clusters.”