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James Webb Space Telescope inspires visual displays by NMHS students

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune North Medford High School junior Emmily Minihan talks about her research and exoplant presentation on display at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland Saturday afternoon.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune North Medford High School student Charles Tang talks about his research and presentation about planet orbiting on display at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland Saturday afternoon.
The posters will be on display for the public to view at ScienceWorks in Ashland

These students have their eyes to sky — and well beyond.

The James Webb Space Telescope is scheduled to launch at 4:20 a.m. PT Dec. 18, and it will become the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, taking NASA’s astrophysics mission to new heights.

According to NASA, James Webb’s mission is to observe planets, stars and galaxies. But a group of students at North Medford High School has used posters to describe less obvious — but highly important — aspects of the telescope and information it could provide during its upcoming mission.

These slick, sophisticated posters are on display at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland this weekend, and there appearance coincided with the introduction of the museum’s new Space Telescope exhibit, which also includes feature presentations, demonstrations and related hands-on activities for young and old alike.

Robert Black, NMHS astronomy teacher and planetarium director, and Colin White, a NASA Solar System Ambassador, ScienceWorks volunteer, and a member of the ScienceWorks Science Advisory Board, were at the museum Saturday with the students who made the posters.

Two students, seniors Marianne Hatley and Audrey Silva, created a poster that explains the telescope’s design and what it can do, such as withstand up to 185-degrees Fahrenheit on its hot side, which is outfitted with solar panels, a communications antenna computer and steering equipment.

Its cold side has been designed to function at a temperature of minus 388-degrees Fahrenheit and has detectors, filters and mirrors, the poster also states.

The pair had to do a good number of revisions on the section of the poster that details the basic science and technology the James Webb telescope will use to “capture very faint infrared radiation from the first stars and galaxy.”

“We kept making it too complex,” said Silva, who is interested in pursuing a career in aerospace engineering.

Hatley talked about one of the differences between the Hubble and James Webb telescopes: While the James Webb is bigger than the Hubble, “It’s only half of its mass.”

She is still considering what type of study to focus on in the future but is looking to take another astronomy class during her first year of college.

Both young women became interested in this type of science by taking Black’s Astronomy class, they said.

Emmily Minahan, a junior, focused on whether James Webb could find life in the universe. She intends to major in astrophysics when she goes off to college and has been interested in planets since elementary school.

“The search for life is one of NASA’s big things,” Minahan noted.

Her poster explains one of the methods NASA uses to find exoplanets (the transit method) and uses a chart illustrating the spectroscopic analysis of Earth, Mars and Venus, which indicates that among the three planets, only Earth could sustain life because of its 21% atmospheric content of oxygen.

Any water on Mars “was swept away with solar winds,” she also said.

She also explained that James Webb would be providing images that happened earlier and that the images would become older as it moves farther away from our small part of the universe.

And Charles Tang, another senior, chose to highlight whether James Webb would be able to prove that there is a Planet 9 “(not Pluto) beyond the orbit of Neptune that has a theoretical mass 5 to 10 times that of Earth.”

“It’s kind of replacing Pluto,” Tang said. “They’ve been trying to find it since the early part of this century.”

Although Planet 9 is thought to not be likely to emit radiation, James Webb is much more powerful than Hubble was.

Tang is also considering a study path that would lead to a career in aerospace, he said.

Both Black and White stressed that these students volunteered to do these posters and received no class credit. After the posters come down at the museum, they will go up at the school and provide inspiration to many local youths in the years to come, White said.

For information about the museum exhibit, visit https://scienceworksmuseum.org/