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IFA Astronomer Maximilian Stritzinger and fellow collaborators awarded JWST time

The allotted time will be used for two projects, both aiming at revealing the secrets behind supernovae and the building blocks of life.

James Webb Space Telescope - expected launch in October 2021. Illustration: NASA
James Webb Space Telescope - expected launch in October 2021. Illustration: NASA

An international team of scientists including IFA’s Dr. Maximilian Stritzinger has been awarded coveted time allocations with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) during cycle 1 to pursue two projects aimed to reveal the secrets behind supernova explosions and the creation of the building blocks of life.

In the fall of 2021, NASA will launch its highly anticipated $10 billion JWST flagship mission. Unlike its predecessor --- the Hubble Space Telescope, JWST will enable Astronomers to view the Comos in a new light. The team will obtain time-series of mid-infrared spectroscopy extending from 5 to 30 microns of the deaths of massive stars known as Type II supernovae, as well as the so-called Type Ia supernovae which result from the thermonuclear disruption of carbon-oxygen white dwarf stars. The new and unique capacities of JWST will enable the team to detect signatures of elements produced during supernova explosions that thus far remain elusive. 


Supernova sn1006c - the until now brightest supernova observed, from 1006. The image is a combination af several spectral images, a.o. from the Chandra space telescope. Credit: NASA/ESA.

“JWST will revolutionize our understanding on the explosion physics driving the deaths of stars. As cauldrons of nucleosynthesis, supernovae not only produce the majority of the iron-group elements in the Universe, but also spawn within the wake of their rapidly expanding debris efficient sites of cosmic dust formation.  JWST offers a novel window to view in real time the genesis of the building blocks of life” says Dr. Stritzinger. 

The team aims to document the dust formation process in Type II supernovae, while data of Type Ia supernovae will enable them to pin down the mass of the progenitor white dwarf stars when they explode. Both sets of observations will also reveal the elements produced in the explosions, which in turn has broad implications throughout astrophysics.


The JWST main mirror folds out afte launch. It is gold coated, optimizing reflexion of light in the infrared range. Illustration: BBC/NASA.

Type Ia supernovae are used to measure distances to galaxies, and were vital to discovering the accelerated expansion of the Universe. Ironically, astronomers lack detailed models of the explosion mechanism of Type Ia supernovae. 

 “JWST will enable us to map out the final stages of stellar evolution, and in the process reveal answers to the most outstanding and pressing questions in the field such as: How do the progenitor stars evolve and explode as supernovae? What heavy elements are produced and what are their relative abundances? And, how prolific is dust formation in supernova remnants?“ commented Dr. Stritzinger, and further remarked,  “It truly is an extremely exciting time for supernova science.”

The team consists of two-dozen international scientists and is one of only a handful to receive more than a single time allocation.

Abstracts for the two applications can be found here and here.