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Astronomer Eric Jensen Joins WHYY to Discuss James Webb Space Telescope

Eric Jensen in astronomy observatory

Listen: The Webb Telescope and the mysteries of the universe

Professor of Astronomy Eric Jensen recently joined the WHYY program Radio Times to discuss the images taken by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and what the project means for the future of astronomy.
Swarthmore boasts a strong connection to JWST, which has been 25 years in the making: Nobel laureate John Mather ’68, H’94 is NASA's senior project scientist on the mission.
Jensen described the pictures as "jaw-dropping" and explained his excitement over JWST's ability to show astronomers more about planets that formed around other stars.
"For the vast majority of [planets around other stars], we know how much mass they have and what their radius is, but not a whole lot more than that," he says. "JWST will be able to look at the atmosphere of those planets and help us start to determine their gas composition."
He also recounted how JWST images of a distant exoplanet labeled WASP-96b left him stunned.
"I gasped out loud when they put up a picture of the spectrum of WASP-96b's atmosphere and it honestly brought a tear to my eye," he says. "It's exciting to me that we can do this. I started my career when we didn't even know about planets outside our solar system and now we can determine that water is a prominent feature of a [distant exoplanet]. I'm amazed at how far we've come."
Toward the end of the program, Jensen explained that he is most excited by the prospect of learning more in ways that he cannot yet anticipate.
"One of the great things about being an astronomer is to look at something, such as a new image or work that someone else has done, and see something that you never even expected. Some of the most amazing discoveries so far have come out of left field."

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