Revealing the Universe with the Webb Telescope - Nathalie Ouelette (2019 December)


If we compare Webb to the Hubble Space Telescope (because everyone has heard of Hubble) it’s another telescope that’s going to be launched into space and is going to have a lot of similarities to Hubble, but also lots of differences. Hubble is in what we call low Earth orbit. It’s just a few hundreds of kilometres above the Earth. But James Webb will be located 1.5 million kilometres away from Earth, considerably farther away, about four times the Earth-Moon distance. It’s going to be much larger than Hubble as well. It has a 6.5 metre wide telescope. Hubble has a 2.4 metre wide telescope.

The James Webb Space Telescope. Photo provided.

Another key difference is that James Webb will be looking in a type of light called infrared. Hubble looks in mostly visible wavelengths, which is what the human eye can see. James Webb’ll be probing the universe in infrared (wavelengths). Often we see in science fiction movies, people will have infrared glasses to have night vision. Humans and animals emit quite brightly in the infrared. But lots of interesting things in space also emit brightly in the infrared, notably planets, which is something that we’re very excited about observing with James Webb—discovering new planets beyond our solar system.

Nathalie Ouellette is an astrophysicist and an avid science communicator. Her research is on the formation and evolution of galaxies, particularly those found in groups and clusters such as the Virgo Cluster. Nathalie is currently the Coordinator of the iREx. She is also the Outreach Scientist for the James Webb Space Telescope in collaboration with the Canadian Space Agency. Following her B.Sc. studies at McGill University, Nathalie attended Queen’s University in Kingston, ON for her M.Sc. and her Ph.D. — both under the supervision of Prof. Stéphane Courteau. She obtained her Ph.D. in 2016 after successfully defending her thesis titled “The SHIVir Survey: A Dynamical Catalogue of Virgo Cluster Galaxies and their Scaling Relations”. During her graduate studies, Nathalie lead many observing programs on telescopes in Hawaii, New-Mexico and Chile. Her time at Queen’s University also provided her with numerous outreach opportunities which lead her to discover her passion for science communication; Nathalie was the Queen’s Observatory Coordinator from 2010 to 2016. She was also the Communications, Education & Outreach Officer for the McDonald Institute at Queen’s University in 2017-2018 where she developed and delivered this new astroparticle physics research institute’s education and public programs. She still serves as an analyst, contributor and speaker for various media outlets et organisations working to promote science and astronomy to the general public and youth.