Shared 2006 Physics Award for
Cosmic Background Explorer
MELBOURNE, FLA. — John C. Mather, an astrophysicist who shared the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics for his work on the Cosmic Background Explorer satellite and now serves as senior project scientist for the $8.7 billion James Webb Space Telescope, will visit Florida Institute of Technology on Thursday, Sept. 22, to speak to students and the public at two free events.
The tennis court-sized telescope, known as the JWST, is scheduled to launch in October 2018. A successor to the Hubble Space Telescope as the next great space observatory, the JWST will be positioned around a gravitational saddle point on the opposite side of Earth from the sun. From this vantage point, it will have an unprecedented view of the universe at infrared wavelengths, allowing the telescope to peer back to the earliest times in our universe to spot galaxies in the act of forming.
The JWST will also be able to carefully inspect the light coming from stars that may have passed through the atmospheres of planets hiding in their glare. These observations could reveal the presence of molecules that may indicate the presence of life elsewhere in the universe.
From 3:30-4:30 p.m. at the Hartley Room in the Denius Student Center, Mather and his JWST colleague at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, the planetary scientist Stefanie Milam, will speak to Brevard County students in grades 5-12 about space exploration and Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM. Mather is expected to open the session with comments about what led him to science as a young man.
Seating is limited at this free event for teachers and students. Please visit http://next-great-space-telescope-tickets.eventbrite.com to register and for additional information.
Then, from 7-8 p.m. at Gleason Performing Arts Center, Mather will deliver a keynote address, “Observing the Universe with the James Webb Space Telescope.” Also free, registration is required by visiting http://nobel-winner-drjohn-mather-tickets.eventbrite.com.
It was 10 years ago next month that Mather and George Smoot, at the time an astrophysicist at the University of California at Berkley, won the Nobel Prize in Physics for, according to the citation, “their discovery of the blackbody form and anisotropy of the cosmic microwave background radiation” — the clinching piece of evidence to cement the Big Bang as scientific fact.
Mather’s Cosmic Background Explorer team made the first map of the hot and cold spots in the background radiation, a discovery Stephen Hawking called “the most important scientific discovery of the century, if not of all time.”
Born in Roanoke, Virginia, and raised in Sussex County, New Jersey, Mather’s interest in science started at a young age, buoyed by trips to the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. “By the time I was in fourth grade, I was already pretty sure I liked scientific and engineering things, including electronics,” he wrote in his Nobel biography.
He attended public schools in rural northern New Jersey and graduated from Newton High School in 1964 (the year that the cosmic microwave background radiation was discovered). He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Swarthmore College with highest honors in physics in 1968, got the highest possible score on the Physics grad record exam, and received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1974.