COSAM News Articles 2023 May Auburn scientist makes groundbreaking discoveries using James Webb Space Telescope

Auburn scientist makes groundbreaking discoveries using James Webb Space Telescope

Published: 05/23/2023

By: Maria Gebhardt

Mohi Saki, a postdoctoral scientist and part of the Dennis Bodewits research team in the Department of Physics, recently had an opportunity to use the world’s most advanced telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST). Launched in December 2021, the JWST enables scientists to conduct in-depth spectroscopic investigations of molecules, heralding a new era in our understanding of space.

"The JWST gives us the tools to probe aspects of the universe that were once out of reach," said Saki. "Its capabilities in molecular spectroscopy provide researchers with a wealth of data about the universe's history."

Saki used the JWST to observe a main-belt comet, 238P/Read, located in the asteroid belt more than twice the sun’s distance. Through detailed spectroscopic analysis, he determined the comet's water production rate, which shed light on its nature. "Comet 238P is producing about 300 grams of water per second, categorizing it as a low activity comet," he elaborated.

His work is part of a Nature paper, Spectroscopic identification of water emission from a main-belt comet, published on May 15. The research was conducted with collaborators from NASA Goddard’s Space Flight Center, the University of Maryland and the Planetary Science Institute.

“I am extremely proud that Mohi was part of the team that observed Comet 238P using NASA’s newest telescope,” said Bodewits. “He was able to use the JWST data the determine how much water there was around the comet water production and confirmed its lack of carbon dioxide emission.”

Saki was able to learn about core elements of the comet. 

“Using the JWST, I was able to study the non-Local Thermal Equilibrium environment, or non-LTE regime, of the comet,” said Saki. “I could look into how the molecules interact with each other and remotely determine the atmosphere's temperature, volume and water density.”

Getting to the point of actually using this new and prestigious telescope is not an easy process.

Access to the JWST, a highly coveted instrument in the field of astronomy, involves a rigorous selection process. "A detailed observing proposal must be submitted and scrutinized by an anonymous review committee to ensure unbiased selection. The process is incredibly competitive with a low selection rate," Saki explained.

Holding a doctoral degree from the Missouri University of Science and Technology, Saki plans to continue his academic career with a focus on researching small celestial bodies like comets and asteroids.

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