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2006 Cosmology Prize

John Mather & the COBE Team

John C. Mather is a senior astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center.

His research centers on infrared astronomy and cosmology. As an NRC postdoctoral fellow at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (New York City), he led the proposal efforts for the Cosmic Background Explorer (74-76), and came to GSFC to be the Study Scientist (76-88), Project Scientist (88-98), and also the Principal Investigator for the Far IR Absolute Spectrophotometer (FIRAS) on COBE. He showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation has a blackbody spectrum within 50 ppm.

As senior project scientist (1995-present) for the James Webb Space Telescope, he leads the science team and represents scientific interests within the project management. He has served on advisory and working groups for the National Academy of Sciences, NASA, and the NSF (for the ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, and for the CARA, the Center for Astrophysical Research in the Antarctic).


Mather's current project: the James Webb Space Telescope:

A million miles from Earth, the James Webb Space Telescope will drift through a frigid void, peering back to the time when new stars and developing galaxies first began to illuminate the universe. Its infrared instruments will pierce clouds of interstellar dust to watch the birth of stars and the development of potential solar systems.

John Mather on the promise of the James Webb Space Telescope

"The James Webb Space Telescope will help us see the very first objects that formed after the Big Bang. Predictions say that we should be able to see clusters of the very, very first objects which are thought to be super-massive stars — what we call Population-3 stars, with a redshift of about 17. And that there was possibly a second "Dark Ages" after that and a new wave of star and galaxy formation with a redshift around six or eight that would have reionized the universe a second time. So, we'll hope to see that these predictions are correct. We have the expectation of direct imaging of the very first ordinary galaxies. We don't know yet whether we should be able to see individual objects of the Population-3 type. Population-3 stars are expected to also explode as very luminous supernovae which could either lead directly to black holes or possibly just to ordinary, very metal-rich expulsions of gas into the inter-galactic medium. So, both are likely possibilities for us to attempt to see. Calculation says we should be able to see those giant supernovas."