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Members of the Public Won Time on the James Webb Space Telescope

black and white pixelated video with a red dot moving across the frame
The moving red dot is one of the brown dwarfs Webb will target, discovered by citizen scientist Arttu Sainio. (Images from NASA’s Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer mission. Credit: NASA)

Think only professional astronomers will have access to the James Webb Space Telescope? Think again!

Three citizen scientists—members of the public—have discovered new astronomical objects that Webb will soon view. One of these volunteers is a co-investigator on a winning Webb proposal.

Later today, NASA, in partnership with the European Space Agency and the Canadian Space Agency, will release the first full-color images and spectroscopic data from the James Webb Space Telescope. But long before then, citizen scientists at Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 were working hard to find new nearby objects that Webb could follow-up. The citizen scientists who discovered Webb targets all work on this citizen science project.

“Even though the process was occasionally painstaking, it was worth it,” said Arttu Sainio, who discovered a new object that Webb will examine. Sainio’s discovery is a “brown dwarf,” a ball of gas too cool to be considered a star, a key to understanding exoplanets. “I end up discovering hundreds of brown dwarf candidates and many of them have been followed up and researched.” Citizen scientists Melina Thevenot and Dan Caselden also discovered brown dwarfs Webb will study.

Citizen scientist Dan Caselden took his involvement in Webb one step further, and became a co-investigator on a winning Webb observing proposal. The proposal called “Explaining the Diversity of Cold Worlds” will study a group of twelve brown dwarfs that all appear to have the same temperature, but still have different infrared brightness. "We will soon see our discoveries in ways never before seen by mankind,” said Caselden. “These are special moments that we will remember forever."

The Backyard Worlds: Planet 9 project continues to search for brown dwarfs and other astronomical objects near the Sun. To join the fun and maybe even discover your own James Webb Space Telescope target, go to backyardworlds.org! Everyone is welcome.

NASA’s Citizen Science Program:
Learn about NASA citizen science projects
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