Episode 96

We are beyond thrilled to welcome Dr Jennifer Wiseman to the podcast today. We talk about her faith journey as well as her work in astronomy as she helps us to understand why the James Webb Space Telescope (launching this week), is going to take the Hubble to the next level. Her enthusiasm and wonder is contagious, so I hope you're ready to be inspired! 


Dr Jennifer Wiseman is the Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) program of Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER). She is also an astrophysicist, studying the formation of stars and planetary systems using radio, optical, and infrared telescopes. She studied physics for her bachelor’s degree at MIT, discovering comet Wiseman-Skiff in 1987. After earning her Ph.D. in astronomy from Harvard University in 1995, she continued her research as a Jansky Fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and as a Hubble Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University. She also has an interest in national science policy and has served as an American Physical Society Congressional Science Fellow. She has worked with several major observatories and is currently a senior astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center.  She is also a public speaker and author, and enjoys giving talks on the inspiration of astronomy and scientific discovery to schools, youth and church groups, and civic organizations. She is a Fellow of the American Scientific Affiliation and a former Councilor of the American Astronomical Society.








Support this podcast on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/DowntheWormholepodcast


More information at https://www.downthewormhole.com/


produced by Zack Jackson
music by Zack Jackson and Barton Willis 



This transcript was automatically generated by www.otter.ai, and as such contains errors (especially when multiple people are talking). As the AI learns our voices, the transcripts will improve. We hope it is helpful even with the errors.

Zack Jackson 00:05

You are listening to the down the wormhole podcast exploring the strange and fascinating relationship between science and religion.


Ian Binns 00:13

Our guest today is the director of the American Association for the Advancement of Science program of dialogue on science, ethics and religion, also known as dozer. She is also an astrophysicist studying the formation of stars and planetary systems using radio, optical and infrared telescopes. She studied physics for her bachelor's degree at MIT discovering comet Wiseman Skiff in 1987. After earning her PhD in astronomy from Harvard University in 1995, she continued her research as the Jansky fellow at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, and as a Hubble Fellow at the Johns Hopkins University. She also has an interest in national science policy and has served as an American Physical Society congressional science fellow. She has worked with several major observatories, and is currently a senior astrophysicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center. She's also a public speaker and author and enjoys giving talks and inspiration of astronomy and scientific discovery to schools, youth and church groups, and civic organizations. She's a fellow of the American scientific affiliation, and a former Counselor of the American Astronomical Society. We're very excited to welcome Dr. Jennifer Wiseman to the show today.


Jennifer Wiseman 01:22

Thank you, it's my pleasure to join you.


Ian Binns 01:25

So, um, Jennifer, again, thank you for agreeing to come and talk, we just, you know, we've met you and I met several years ago, I know that you and Zach know each other as well. And so we kind of wanted to start off with what got you into astronomy. And then how did that grow to include your science and religion work as well,


Jennifer Wiseman 01:47

I grew up out in a rural area in Arkansas, on a family farm. And so I was just surrounded by nature growing up, we lived in a pretty area that had nearby lakes and rivers. So I enjoyed everything about the natural world, I thought we had animals of our own livestock and pets, but also lots of wildlife that I enjoyed seeing. And then I also enjoy just wandering around meadows and the streams and, you know, swimming, and kayaking, and all those kinds of things. And that made me appreciate the natural world, we also had dark night skies when I was growing up. So we could go out at night and see stars from horizon to horizon. And that is such a rare treat these days, most people live in cities or suburbs and have stray light from parking lots and stores and streets that create a glow in the sky and really drown out a lot of the beauty of seeing stars, unfortunately. But I was able to see the night sky, we would go on evening walks my parents and dogs and and I would enjoy these these regular walks. And I would imagine what it was like to, to go up where the stars are. And I would I was curious. So I think that started me out just being naturally curious about nature. And then science was a kind of a natural affinity then because science is basically the formal study of how nature works. And I had good teachers in my public schools who encouraged me in all kinds of subjects, science, mathematics, but also humanities and music. But all of that together, I think was the foundation and then Pair that with as I was growing up, there was a lot of flurry of interest about space exploration, the Voyager spacecraft, were just sending the first images back to earth, of moons around planets in our solar system, close up views we've never had before. I just thought this was fascinating. And you know, a lot of science fiction like Star Wars movies and things were starting to come out in the late 70s and 80s. And I was caught up in that too. So there was a lot of social interest in space, as well as my own natural affinity for nature. And all of that together, I think set the foundation for my interest in doing something related to the space program, but I didn't have a clue as to how to get involved in it. But thankfully, I had teachers and encouraging family and church that just encouraged me to go on and try anything I wanted. So I went on to study science.


Zack Jackson 04:42

That's beautiful.


Ian Binns 04:43

Yeah, there's a lot to take away from that. One of the things I love the most is you referred to Star Wars and Star Wars fans. Thank you for that.


Zack Jackson 04:53

genre that we've we've spent quite some time on this podcast talking about the value of science fiction and how it implants This sorts of love of cosmos in love of the world into people into children's minds. And so they grow up to great things. Yeah, that's so sorry. Go ahead. Sorry, I'm walking all over you. So I'm, I hear you say that there was a lot of support from family from, from friends and teachers and even church. Did you get any of that? That sort of feeling that science and and God are at odds that so many young Christians did as they're growing up? Did you taste any of that? Or was it all supportive?


Jennifer Wiseman 05:36

I never had any sense that there should be some kind of conflict between science and faith. In fact, quite the opposite. I grew up again, in a in a place where nature just surrounded us, it was a rural area where people had farms or they enjoy recreation on the lakes and rivers, and it was pretty and so we just naturally correlated the beauty of the natural world with our faith and our love for God, because we understood that God is the Creator, and God is responsible for the creation and called it good. So I think at a very basic level there, there really wasn't any sense of conflict, quite the opposite that science was the study of God's handiwork. And we should be grateful for that. Now, when it came to the particulars, like how do you interpret the opening verses of the biblical book of Genesis, that seems to stipulate that all of creation came into being in a few literal days and those kinds of things? You know, I think we, we probably took that rather literally in church and so forth. We didn't have any reason not to. But I think I was also given a sense of humility that our pastors and things would would tell us that God doesn't give us all the details in in Scripture that, that He's given us just enough for what we need to know to have a relationship with God, but but he's also given us mines and other tools and giving us more knowledge as time goes on. And so I think, even though I was probably schooled in a more literalistic view of Scripture growing up, I was also given a sense of humility, that there might be more to it than just what is more two more information that that God will give us than just what's written in Scripture. So I think that enabled me as I began to learn more about the scientific picture of the vast size and age of the universe and the development of life, I was able to correlate that with a humble view of scripture that God didn't give us all these details in Scripture, but delights in us using scientific knowledge to learn some of these rich details, and wow, are they Rich, I mean, the universe is not small. It's enormous, beyond our wildest imaginations, both in space and time. And I think that's something that fascinates me the most about astronomy is that it is a time machine, we can use telescopes to see out and that is equivalent to seeing back in time has taken time for the light to get to us from either planets in our solar system, or other stars or distant galaxies. And we can see how the universe has changed over time by looking back in time to distant objects in space. So I think what I did pick up growing up in terms of attention is more of a philosophical tension. I remember watching my favorite program on television, which was the cosmos program, which was a wonderful exploration of the universe. And I really admire Carl Sagan to this day, I'm so grateful for how he opened my eyes to the mysteries of the solar system and the universe beyond and introduced me to these images coming from the Voyager probes of the outer solar system, things like that. But every once in a while he and some other well, spoken scientist would interject some philosophical opinions and things that were kind of denigrating toward religion or religious faith and I picked that up even as a teenager and as a child. I couldn't quite articulate it, but I even then could sense that while I loved the Science, I didn't like some of the content Have dismissive comments I was hearing about religious faith and I, you know, I just kind of put tuck that away, in my mind kind of puzzling. Why does there have to be some kind of, of denigration of faith when you're talking about the majesties of science and, and then, of course, as I became an adult and a scientist, I realized that there is, of course, a strong difference between what the science is telling us about the natural world and how it works. And human philosophical interpretation of which there can be different opinions. And and trying to separate, you know, what is the science telling us from? What are the different human interpretations of what the natural world is telling us about human purpose and meaning, and even our beliefs and God and purpose. And I'm able to do that much better as a as an adult scientist, and to see where that wind falls, then I think a lot of folks in the public may be prepared for when they hear a scientist kind of crossing the line between talking about just the science and expressing personal philosophical views.


Zack Jackson 11:12

But I think you do so with the same sort of humility, like it spills over from, from your study of astronomy into your, into your religion and philosophy, that, like you study the stars, and you see the unbelievable fakeness. And you just can't help but let that spill over into everything that well, why would I know everything about philosophy? Why would I know everything about God, that's absurd. I don't even know everything about our solar system. There's like a certain humility, I think that comes from, from when you're really into, into that kind of science that I appreciate, I think, I think astronomy makes me a better Christian, or at least a more of a mystical one. Anyway,


Jennifer Wiseman 11:57

I think what astronomy does for me is not you know, sort of prove God or something like that, I think it's very hard to take something from the natural world and use it to prove or disprove something that isn't confined to just the natural, observable world. But what it does do, being a person of faith as I am in enrich that faith, I mean, I believe in God as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. And when I learn more about what that universe is like, that means that my reverence for God is much deeper. I mean, it's almost scary when you think about the ages of time we're talking about in terms of our own universe, and there may be other universes too, that we don't even know anything about. And yet we read in Scripture, that the same God who's responsible for this 13 point a billion years of the universe, and its content, and its evolution, is also concerned with the lives of us and of the sparrow, you know, of the, of the individual, what we would call insignificant wife in terms of time and space, and yet God chooses to call us significant because of God's own choosing and love. And so it's that kind of, you know, the infinitely large almost, and the infinitely small, almost, that God encompasses that's very hard for me to comprehend. But it does deepen my, my reverent fear and my appreciation for the kind of God that that we read about in Scripture, and that we experience as people of faith.


Zack Jackson 13:54

So you are the director of the American, the American Association for the Advancement of Science program of dialogue on science, ethics and religion, which is a huge mouthful. Which is triple A S. dozer, you know, for those who like acronyms, which is an organization that I think every single one of our listeners, like if you if you subscribe to this podcast, and this is an organization that you would be interested in learning more about, but I would wager to guess that a lot of them have never heard of it. Can you tell us a little bit about what you do and what the organization does and what kind of resources are available, how they can connect?


Jennifer Wiseman 14:40

Sure. Okay, so so the the world's largest scientific society is the American Association for the Advancement of Science. And that organization does exactly what it sounds like it triple as advances science for the good of people around the world. So AAA is publishes a journal scientific journal called science that many have heard of, or even written scientific articles for. AAA is also advocates the good use of science in society. So, AAA is has public education programs and programs helping legislators to see how science is beneficial to people in all walks of life, triple as sponsors some programs to advocate science for advancing human rights, and to work with different components of society to make sure science is being used to the benefit of all people. One of those programs is this dialogue program called the dialogue on science, ethics and religion, or doser. It's the you can find out about it by the website as.org/doser DDoS, er doser was thought of back in the 1990s, when scientists realized that to really be effective and communicating with people, we needed to understand how important religion and faith is in people's lives. And if we're really going to interface with different communities, especially in the US, we need to recognize that people's faith identity is a very important part of their worldview. Most people identify with a religion or a religious tradition, as an important aspect of their identity, and how they get a lot of their sense of values and worldview, including how they see the world and hear and articulate science and its use in their lives and work in ministries and so forth. So if scientists are not understanding of the importance of religion and faith in the lives of most people, and if they're not able to articulate science in a way that brings people on board and listen to the values of people from faith communities, then scientists are really missing a huge chance of understanding the value of science and how it can be incorporated into the lives of our culture. So the doser program was invented back in the 1990s, to start building those relationships between scientists and religious communities. These are religious communities of all faiths, and scientists of any faith or no faith, but building a dialogue about how science is important in the lives of our people in our culture. Today, the dozer program is very active, we have several projects, one of them, I think you guys are particularly knowledgeable, that is our science for seminaries project, where we work with seminaries from across the country, and even beyond the US that are interested in, in incorporating good science into the training of future pastors and congregational leaders, because science is a part of everyone's life today. So if a church wants to serve the world in the most effective way, they need to know to how to incorporate science into their ministries, if they want to be relevant to our culture, especially for young people, they need to understand the role of science. It's not just the old arguments about science and creation and evolution. A lot of people when they think about science and religion, they immediately wonder if there's some kind of an argument about how old the the world is. And you know, there are still some very interesting questions, of course, about How did life come into being and so forth. But most faith communities now are really much more excited about talking about many other aspects of science as well like space exploration. Could there be life beyond Earth or, or more practical things? How do we incorporate good science into ministries to the poor or helping people around the world have better food better, cleaner water? How do we get the best science incorporated into the best health care practices? I mean, this is of course come to the forefront during this pandemic with COVID-19 and trying to understand the science of vaccinations and the social reality of distributing vaccine and getting people to understand and trust the science enough to become protected as best we can against the terrible disease. So all these aspects Our I think invigorating a dialogue between faith communities and scientists in our dozer program really seeks to bring scientists and faith communities into better relationship and contact. And of course, these are overlapping communities. I mean, a lot of scientists themselves are people of faith from various faith traditions. But even scientists who are not or not, for the most part, are not hostile to faith communities, they just need a better architecture for building dialogue and relationship. In fact, most scientists already of course, are interfacing with people of faith, whether they know it or not the students in their classrooms, people in their lab and so forth. And so we also hold workshops for scientists, at scientific society meetings, and at research universities to help scientists better understand the important role that faith plays in the lives of many, probably most people in the US if you look at the polls, and how to make sure that they are incorporating a respect for that faith component of people's lives when they're talking about science in their classrooms, and, and in their interface with people in their public spheres of influence. Not just to help welcome people into science, but also to help people see how science is relevant to the values they already have.


Ian Binns 21:26

So I'm curious if we can shift a little bit a UML mentioned in your bio, that you've did have done some work with Hubble, the Hubble Space Telescope, and you know, we, this is going to be versus being released, hopefully, in the same day that the new The Next Generation Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope will be launched. And so can you talk to us a little bit about your work with the Hubble Space Telescope, and then maybe the distinction between Hubble that a lot of people know about and the new one, the James Webb Space Telescope and what your hopes are for that.


Jennifer Wiseman 22:02

I've had the privilege of working with many different types of telescopes throughout my astronomical career. My own research is based on the use of radio telescopes, which are these big dish shaped telescopes. My doctoral research used an array of them out in New Mexico called the Very Large Array or the VLA. In fact, you can drive out there and see the Very Large Array, southwest of Albuquerque. And with these kinds of telescopes, I've been able to study how stars form in interstellar clouds, you can peer in through the dust and see some of these regions where infant stars are forming. I've also used and worked with the Hubble Space Telescope, which is a platform that's now become very famous Hubble is a is a satellite orbiting the Earth. It's not very far above the earth just a little over 300 miles above the surface of the Earth, but it's up there to get it above the clouds. So you can get a much clearer image of objects in deep space, whether you're observing planets or stars or distant galaxies and Hubble has been operating for almost 32 years now, thanks to repeated visits from astronauts that have kept the observatory functioning by replacing cameras from time to time and repairing electronics. So so the the observatories in very good shape. We're recording this discussion right now in mid December looking forward to next week what we're anticipating as it's the launch of another very large space telescope called the James Webb Space Telescope, named after a NASA administrator who was a science supporter back in the Apollo years. This telescope will be every bit as good as Hubble in terms of getting beautiful images of space. But it will also be different from Hubble because it will be very sensitive to infrared wavelengths of light, the Hubble telescope sees visible light like our eyes can see. And even energetic light that's bluer than blue ultraviolet light, which is emitted from energetic processes in galaxies and in regions where stars are forming. Hubble can even see a little bit into the infrared part of the spectrum of light, so that's a little redder than red, which helps us to see somewhat into these interstellar clouds I mentioned where stars are still forming and planets are forming and to see very distant galaxies because as we look out into distance space, light from very distant galaxies has taken millions, sometimes billions of years to come. To us, and as it's traveling through expanding space, that light loses some of its energy, it gets shifted into what we call the reddened part of the spectrum, we get red shifted. Because it's stretched the wavelength of light, we can think of it as being stretched as they pass through expanding space to get to our telescope. And so some of those galaxies even though the light started its trip as blue eight from stars and ends up being infrared light when we receive it here, Hubble can see some of those very distant galaxies, which we're seeing as they were very far back in time when they were just infant galaxies. But some of those galaxies that light is redshift, and even beyond what Hubble can see in this new Webb Space Telescope will see infrared light much farther into the infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum than Hubble can see. So the Webb telescope will be able to see galaxies even earlier in the history of our universe, when they were just starting to form. And that will complement the kinds of galaxies and the kinds of information that Hubble sees for us. So, you know, we talked about the universe being about 13 point 8 billion years old, which we can glean from various different types of information about the universe. We're now seeing galaxies as they were forming for Well, within that first point, eight of the 13 point 8 billion year history of the universe, we're really seeing the universe at when it was basically in its childhood, and the Webb telescope will show us proto galaxies, the very first generations of stars and gas kind of coalescing as gravity holds it together in the very first few 100,200,000,000 years of the universe after its beginning, so we're excited about that closer to home, the Webb telescope will also see into that deeper into that infrared part of the spectrum that allows us to see deeper into these nurseries of interstellar gas in our own galaxy, where stars are forming and planets are forming and disks around those stars. And to gather the Hubble Telescope, which we anticipate will keep working for quite a few more years, and the Webb telescope will provide complimentary information. For example, when we look at star forming regions, the Hubble Telescope will tell us something about emission in visible light and ultraviolet light. Webb Telescope will give us the infrared part that gives us a lot more information about what those baby stars are like as they form. And even more exciting, we're now we're now discovering that there are planets around other stars we call those exoplanets because they're outside our solar system. We can study something about their atmospheres and in their composition of those atmospheres. Hubble tells us something about the atoms and molecules that emit their light and visible wavelengths and in ultraviolet wavelengths. The Webb telescope gives us information from molecules in these exoplanet atmospheres that emit in infrared wavelengths. So then we can get a whole spectrum of information, we can know whether some of these exoplanets have water vapor, whether they have oxygen, have other kinds of things that we really want to know about exoplanets, and what they're like. So, complimentary science is the name of the game as we look forward to the James Webb Space Telescope, and we think about how it will work in complement to the Hubble Space Telescope in the coming years.


Zack Jackson 28:56

I bet you blew my mind in about seven different times in the past couple of years. So I'm not entirely sure where to go with the fact that you can point to telescope towards an exoplanet and look at the way that light passes through the tiny sliver of an atmosphere and be able to then tell what that atmosphere is made out of. That blows my mind.


Jennifer Wiseman 29:32

Well, the Hubble Space Telescope was actually the pioneer of this method of studying exoplanets. To study exoplanets, you have to be kind of like a detective because you have to use indirect methods to detect them in the first place, and even to study much about them. I mean, we would all like to simply point a camera at another planet, outside our solar system and take a nice picture But these things are really small. They are tiny objects orbiting bright things we call stars, and they get lost in the glare of the star. So astronomers have to use indirect methods to detect them to detect exoplanets. The first ones were detected not by seeing the planet, but by seeing how the star it was orbiting would wobble in its orbit. And that's because there's a gravitational mutual tug between a planet and its parent star. So even if you can't see the planet, you can see the star wobbling a little bit in its position as the planet orbits around, and they're both actually orbiting what's called the center of mass between the two. So the first exoplanets were detected by noticing stars periodically wobbling in their position, and determining from that what mass of planet, we would need to create that much of a wobble. And then the idea of transiting exoplanets was explored. That is certain planets happened to orbit their parent star in a plane that's along our line of sight as we're looking toward that star. And that means every time the planet passes in front of its parent star, it blocks out a little bit of that star light from our view. So even if we can't see the planet, we can see the starlight dimming just a little bit periodically as the planet orbits in front of it. Those transit observations were used by the Kepler space telescope, to discover hundreds of new exoplanet candidates. In fact, we have 1000s of them of systems simply by looking at the parent star and seeing them dim periodically and then doing follow up observations with other telescopes to really confirm whether or not what's causing that is, is an exoplanet. They have Hubble Telescope has taken this one step farther, which is using transits to, to study the composition of the atmospheres of some of these exoplanets. So when a planet passes in front of its parent star, not only does it block out some of the starlight, but some of the starlight passes through that outer rim of the planet's atmosphere along the outer limb on its way to as it passes through. And that atmosphere, what depending on what's in the planet's atmosphere will absorb some of that light. If there are molecules and atoms in the atmosphere, it will absorb light at very certain colors or frequencies. So a spectroscopy just can take that light and spread it out into its constituent colors, kind of like using a prism. And you can see the very particular color band where light is missing because atoms or molecules in that exoplanet atmosphere have absorbed it. And so we have, we have instruments on the Hubble Space Telescope, that are what we call spectrograph. They don't take the pretty pictures, they simply take the light and spread it out into its constituent frequencies or colors, like a prism and see where there are very particular color bands missing. And that pattern tells us what's been munched out, and that tells us what kinds of atoms or molecules are in the exoplanet atmosphere. So Hubble was the first observatory to be used to determine the composition of an exoplanet atmosphere. And now this has grown into a huge astronomical industry, if you will, of using telescopes, Hubble and other telescopes to do spectroscopic analysis of the atmospheres of exoplanets to learn something about their composition. And here, we're excited about this new webb space telescope that's going to do that as well. But in the far infrared in the sorry, in the mid infrared part of the electromagnetic spectrum, where we can do we can determine even more molecules and kinds of diagnostics that tell us more about what's in these exoplanet atmospheres. We want to know whether planets outside of our solar system are similar or different to planets inside our solar system. And of course, we'd like to know if any of them are habitable for life. We don't yet have the technology sadly to visit planets that are outside our solar system and take samples of their atmospheres or their their dirt if they have dirt or things like that, but we can observe them remotely and so that is what we're trying to perfect are these techniques of taking remote information Like the spectrum of light from an exoplanet atmosphere, and determining from that, what's in that atmosphere. And then from there we can discern whether or not there might be habitability for life. Like we know we need water for life as we know it. So could there be water on one of these exoplanets, or even signs of biological activity, we know that if we looked at Planet Earth from a distance, we would see oxygen in the atmosphere. And that's evidence of, of the work of plant life on our Earth's surface, generating oxygen, this kind of, of process photosynthesis tells us that there's an ongoing biological community, if you will, on planet Earth, otherwise, all the oxygen in the atmosphere would disappear through reactions, but the fact that we have continuing refreshed oxygen tells us that there's biological activity on our planet. If we saw oxygen, as well as other indicators in the atmospheres of other planets, that would be a clue that there might be biological activity there. So we're taking steps the Webb telescope will give us more information than Hubble and then future telescopes beyond Webb will be able to discern whether there are earth like planets with truly Earth light compositions in their atmospheres in in star systems around our galactic neighborhood. So the web is the next step in a whole series of future telescopes that astronomers are planning.


Ian Binns 36:39

That's exciting. Yeah. And I, and doing a little bit of research on James Webb and comparing it to the Hubble and and, you know, I've always been a huge fan of the Hubble Space Telescope and you know, have little models of it. Growing up when you know, I'm a huge LEGO fan, when Lego released the new space shuttle model. In the spring, the one that had Hubble with it was really exotic, so I could kind of build the space shuttle and Hubble. And so but doing those comparisons, I then saw just now the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, that's in production, I guess, right? And,


Jennifer Wiseman 37:22

yes, so So the Nancy Grace Roman space telescope is named after you guessed it, Nancy Grace Roman, who was just a phenomenal pioneer in the history of NASA's foray into space astronomy, she was the first chief astronomer at NASA headquarters. And back in the 1970s, she was the one who advocated the idea of NASA building a space telescope. Now scientists had been talking about this for even decades about what you could do if you could put a telescope in space, but to actually get it implemented, required someone with a NASA headquarters to champion this idea. And she did, she got it started with a NASA Headquarters back in the 1970s. And that ended up being the Hubble Space Telescope. So she's sometimes referred to as the mother of Hubble. She passed away just recently, but she remained an active interested scientist for all of her life. So this telescope now that's being developed is named in her honor the the Roman space telescope, and it will again complement these other space telescopes, it will complement the Webb Space Telescope, which will launch sooner. And the Hubble Space Telescope, which is already operating, the Roman telescope will be an infrared telescope, you know, like the Webb telescope is, is an infrared Space Telescope. But the difference is that Roman is going to have a much wider field of view, that means it will see a much wider swath of the sky than either Hubble, or the Webb telescope can do. If, if Hubble wants to survey a wide, wider region of the sky, it has to do hundreds of little postage stamp observations and stitch it all together. And we've done that and we've done for example, a Hubble observation of a big part of the disk of the Andromeda Galaxy, which is our nearest big spiral galaxy, and we learned a lot by stitching together little postage stamp observation after observation. This is a project led by Professor Julianne del Canton and her team called the fat program which which is is spelled ph 80. But it's it's Hubble Andromeda Treasury program to look at stars in this nearby galaxy. But it's taken a long time. The Roman telescope can do this wide swath of the sky with just, you know, one exposure because it can see such a wider swath of the sky. And the other thing, the other kind of science that it's really being designed to do is to study the distribution of galaxies. Hubble's really good at looking at an individual galaxy and telling us a lot of information. But if you want to know how hundreds or 1000s of galaxies are distributed around the sky, it takes a long time, my favorite image from Hubble is called the Ultra Deep Field. I don't know if you've seen it. But it was a product of just pointing Hubble in one direction, the sky and collecting faint light over many days. And the product is this collection of little blotches of light that you might think are stars, but each one of them is actually another galaxy like like like or unlike the Milky Way each one that can contain billions of stars. And so if you imagine that extrapolated over the entire sky, you get a sense of how rich our universe is. But as wonderful as that deep field is, and you can see 1000s of galaxies, you can't get a sense of how galaxies are really distributed across wider swaths of the sky because it is a small field of view. The Roman telescope, which should be launched later, this decade, will have a wide field of view that can see how the patterns of galaxies have taken shape. Throughout cosmic history. We know that galaxies are distributed in more of a honeycomb fashion, there are regions where there aren't many galaxies, we call them, voids, voids. And then there are regions where there are kind of quite a few galaxies collected together. We know now that throughout the billions of years of cosmic history, there's been kind of a tug of war between gravity, which is trying to pull things together. And that's creating galaxies and even clusters of galaxies that are held together by their mutual gravitational pool. And something that's pushing things apart, we now know that the universe is not only expanding, but that expansion is getting faster. So something is, is kind of pushing out. And we're calling that dark energy, because we don't really know what it is, it may be some repulsive aspect of gravity. Over time, this tug of war between dark energy pushing things apart, and the matter pulling things together, through what we would call traditional gravitational pull has resulted in the distribution of galaxies that we now have today, we would like to understand that better. And the Roman Space Telescope is going to help us see how galaxies have been distributed across space throughout cosmic time. And then the Webb telescope, and the Hubble telescope can help us hone in on very specific galaxies and small clusters to give us more detail. So again, we use different observatories in complement, because they each have their own kind of unique scientific niche of what they can tell us. And together, we get a much better bigger picture of what's going on in the universe. And we also use telescopes on the ground that are getting more and more sophisticated in what they can do to complement telescopes in space. So all of these facilities work in complement.


Ian Binns 43:51

So I'm curious, Jennifer, you know, with Hubble, and you're especially bringing up the Ultra Deep Field. And before that there was so the Hubble Deep Field, and then the hobo Ultra Deep Field, right. And they were both just unbelievable. To look at. I remember when they both came out. And I cannot remember the years, obviously, but I do remember, I think the Hubble are the first one I was able to use and I was a high school science teacher. But it was just unbelievable to look at these things. Will there be with the James Webb Space Telescope? For example? Will we is there will there be an effort to kind of point it in the same direction? You know, the Hubble has been pointing out and look at either the same areas that Hubble's looked at to see what else we could get from that location. And then also to Will there be something kind of like the Hubble Ultra Deep Field with the James Webb, like, is there going to be do you know, or is that just anything is possible?


Jennifer Wiseman 44:52

Oh, absolutely. I mean, one of the main drivers for the the James Webb Space Telescope was this desire to look at the Deep feels like Hubble has done. But to be able to see galaxies that are even more distant than what Hubble can pick up the these distant galaxies, of course, we're not seeing them as they actually are right this minute, we're seeing them as they were when the light began its track from those galaxies across space, to our telescope. And for some of these galaxies in these deep fields, those galaxies are billions of what we call light years away a light year is a unit of distance is the distance that light travels in a year. So when we see a galaxy that's billions of light years away, we're seeing it as it was billions of years back in time. And as that light has traveled across space to get to our telescope, it's traveled through space that is actually expanding, that creates what we call a red shifting effect, the light that we receive is redder than it was when it started, it's its journey. And sometimes that red shifting goes all the way into the infrared part of the spectrum, even beyond what Hubble can pick up. So for these most distant galaxies, we anticipate that a lot of them are shining most of their light in, in a wavelength that's become shifted into the infrared part of the spectrum that only the Webb telescope will pick up, it will pick up galaxies and see them that that the Hubble Deep fields haven't seen so we anticipate seeing even more galaxies with the Webb telescope than Hubble has seen. And yet Hubble can see galaxies in ways that the web won't be able to see Hubble can see the ultraviolet light from the more nearby galaxies. And we can then put a picture together as how as to how galaxies have changed. Over time, by comparing those early infant galaxies at the Webb telescope, we'll pick up with the galaxies that Hubble can see brightly in ultraviolet light that won't be as bright in the infrared light that Webb can see. And then all those intermediate galaxies that we pick up, the infrared light from the Webb telescope and the visible and ultraviolet light from Hubble, and we can put all that information together to make deep feels like we've never had before. So yes, we're going to see the same deals that Hubble has seen, Webb will look at and pick up more galaxies, and then other deep fields Webb will look at. And we will we're already doing preparatory science with Hubble knowing that we want to use Webb for the things that Webb uniquely can do, and can use it in complement with what Hubble can already do. So we're already doing what we call preparatory observations. With Hubble, that makes sure that we understand everything we can about these different fields of galaxies with Hubble, so that we know just the kinds of things we want to learn with JT VST. And we use that telescope as efficiently as we can, once it gets going. You know, the Webb telescope is anticipated as we record this to be launching in late December. But it'll take several months for it to get out where it will be perched a million miles more and more from Earth. That's a lot farther away than Hubble is, but it's being put that far away from Earth to keep it very cool. So that it can pick up the faintest infrared light from these distant galaxies, and from these closer to home star forming regions. So we won't be getting science images from the web for quite a few months, as it makes this trek out into a much more distant part of space than the Hubble telescope. So we're gonna have to be patient. But I'm looking forward to those first science images coming in, in the in the middle part of 2022. If all goes well,


Zack Jackson 48:57

so when we do start to get those images, wow, if they're in the infrared, what will they look like to us humans? Will they have to be artificially colored? Or?


Jennifer Wiseman 49:09

Yes, so so the the Webb telescope will see red light that we can see. But then beyond read into the infrared that we cannot see. And the Hubble itself also sees Light We Cannot See. So Hubble picks up visible light that we can see. But Hubble's picks up ultraviolet light that we can't see and also near infrared light that we cannot see. So already with Hubble images, we have to give them colors that our eyes can see so that we can have a picture to look at. So for Hubble images, if you read carefully, it will tell you whether what you're seeing is visible light or if it's for example, near infrared light, it will be given a red hue so that you can see that part of the spectrum showing up In in the eyes, your colors your eyes can see, we usually label the things on Hubble images. So you know exactly what the color coding is. The Webb telescope images will be likewise sort of translated into colors that we can see in pictures and photographs so that the part of the infrared spectrum that is closer to visible light will be colored, a little less red, maybe even blue. And the part of the infrared spectrum that the web will pick up that's deeper into the infrared part of the spectrum will be colored, very red. And so you'll you'll see probably a, a, a legend that, you know, next to these James Webb images that tell you the range of colors that it's actually picking up and what that has been translated to in the colors that have been put into the image, it's, it's not just any color goes these, usually what happens is you try to make the color range that's on the image as close to the span of color as the actual information is, but just transferred over into a band that our eyes can see. So yes, you have to do something, or else you couldn't see it, with our eyes looking at a picture, because we can't see infrared light. And the same is already true with Hubble images that go beyond just the visible light of the spectrum.


Ian Binns 51:35

I'm just in awe. It's just, I've always loved astronomy, and you know, it's something that I've always just been passionate about. What is it that you're most excited about? And I'm sorry, I just you know, in listening to you talk about it, you may have talked some already. But with this, the Webb Space Telescope, the Nancy Grace, Roman, and telescope and all these different ones that are coming, what is it that you're most excited about with these things?


Jennifer Wiseman 52:06

I think I'm most excited about what you might call two extremes of the spacial scale of the Universe. With these new telescopes, like the the Webb Space Telescope, and then later the Roman Space Telescope. I'm excited about getting even a better understanding of how the universe we live in has become hospitable over billions of years for life, we can actually, you know, look at the earliest galaxies and compare them to galaxies, like our own Milky Way and intermediate time galaxies as well. And we can see how they've changed over these billions of years of time, we can't follow an individual galaxy as it changed. But we can look at the whole population at these different epochs of time. And we can tell that galaxies have merged together and become bigger over time we think our own Milky Way is the project product of mergers. And we can tell that stars have come and gone in these galaxies, massive stars don't live that long. And so they they produce heavier elements that we need four planets in life. As they shine, they, they they go through a process, a process called Fusion that creates heavier elements. And then when the massive stars become unstable, and run out of fuel, they explode and disperse that material into these interstellar clouds where the next generations of stars form. So we know there's been several generations of stars building upon prior generations. And all that process does is to create heavier elements that enable things like planets to form around star. So in our own galaxy, when stars are still forming, we see them forming with discs of dusty debris and planets forming around them. We know that that's only possible because of previous generations of stars in the galaxy that have created heavier elements. So as as we look at this process of the whole universe, the whole cosmos becoming more hospitable to life over eons of time, and that fascinates me and I'm excited with these new telescopes to get a greater sense of how that process has worked. And that personally feeds my, my faith, my sense of offer, how our universe has been endowed with what we need for for life and eventually the ability to have these kinds of conversations to exist and to think about our purpose and our existence and to contemplate on greater meaning. So that excites me and then much closer to home. I really am excited about observations within our solar system, I like the idea that we, with these new telescopes can also study details about planets and moons in our own solar system. And also that we're sending probes, you know, the the kind of space exploration that got me excited in astronomy in the first place. Where are these probes that humans have constructed and sent out to send back images of other planets and their moons in our solar system, I still think that's the the one of the greatest things humans have done and can do, if we put our heads together and do constructive international cooperations. And so I'm excited about probes that will go to places like Europa in our own solar system, in the coming years, that's an ice covered moon that we know has water ocean underneath, I'd like to know what what that water is like, you know, and there are missions that are already sampling the region around Jupiter, and have probed the environment of Saturn. These are things that excite me. And so I'm looking forward also to probe and telescope studies of our own solar system in the coming years. That's our own backyard. And we can learn a lot about even our own planet, by studying our sister planets in our own solar system. So those are the things I'm most excited about.


Zack Jackson 56:29

Do you think we're going to find life on Venus?


Jennifer Wiseman 56:33

Venus is harsh. Venus is is hot, and you know, really inhospitable to life as we know it. Now you can say, well, what if there's life, that's not as we know it? But, you know, we've all watched a lot of science fiction. But the trouble is, we have to know how to identify life, what is life? And so we have to start with what we know, which is life, even in the most extreme conditions on planet Earth. And, you know, what, what are they? The conditions, even the most extreme ones that in which life can thrive? There's a whole field called astrobiology right? Now, that's, that's a new field. But it's a very vibrant field where scientists are trying to understand what are the even the extreme conditions in which life can exist in our own planet Earth? And then, how would that translate to environments in space, either in interstellar space or on other planets or other star systems? And then how would we identify it as life? You know, that's really the tough question, especially if you can't go someplace physically, you can only observe remotely, how would you know that? That's that there's life there? That's a hard question in the field of astrobiology is trying to address all those questions. One of the things I like about astronomy right now is it's very interdisciplinary. It's not that you know, astronomy is separate from geology, which is separate from physics, which is separate from chemistry. No, all these things are being used together now, including biology to try to understand environments of other star systems and planets. And you know, how these conditions of stellar radiation and geology and atmospheres and chemistry work together and how that might affect even biology. So everything is very interdisciplinary now. And I just encourage people to get excited about space exploration, even if that's not your professional feel, there's so much you can learn and enjoy, even if it's not your occupation. By paying attention online, what's going on Hubble Space Telescope images are all freely available online, you can go to the website nasa.gov/hubble. And learn about it are also the galleries at Hubble site.org. And see any of these amazing images I've been talking about. The other telescopes that are large and space are on the ground also have magnificent websites with images. So you can learn a lot just by paying attention online. And I hope everybody also encourages young people to go into science fields or to realize that science is relevant to all walks of life, not just if you're thinking about becoming professional involved in space, but if you're thinking about just about anything, science is relevant to what you do. Science is relevant to our food to communications, to our health, to our exploration of oceans, and mountains, even on this planet, so I hope everybody takes a sense of time to just look around the natural world right around you. be appreciative of the wildlife and the trees and the natural world in a pretty Science as a way of studying that natural world but but keep a sense of wonder and awe. That's how I would encourage everyone to walk away from a program like this.


Zack Jackson 1:00:11

Well, thank you so much for that. Yeah. And


Ian Binns 1:00:13

I'll give a great ending.


Zack Jackson 1:00:14

I'll give a plug for we did an episode on on astrobiology back in January that you all should check out if you haven't had a chance to read Adams book. What is it living with tiny aliens? The image of God and the Anthropocene? Right, am I getting that subtitle? Right? He's not here. He's one of our CO hosts. He's not with us today to plug his own book. But thank you so much for the the wonder the all the inspirations hope. There's a lot to get excited about. Yeah, thank you.


Jennifer Wiseman 1:00:45

My pleasure. I'm glad you're interested in and I'm sure there'll be many more conversations to come have

Share | Download(Loading)
Podbean App

Play this podcast on Podbean App