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Vancouver astronomer gains access to prestigious James Webb Space Telescope for research

An image from the James Webb Space Telescope captured for UBC astronomer Dr. Jeremy Heyl's research. An image from the James Webb Space Telescope captured for UBC astronomer Dr. Jeremy Heyl's research.

It took years and a series of failures before Dr. Jeremy Heyl gained access to space exploration's holy grail.

"We had applied for a bunch of different programs, maybe five or six different ones, and this was the only one that was successful," said Heyl, a professor of physics and astronomy at UBC.

Since the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launched in December 2021, researchers across North America and Europe have been vying for access to it.

"We received over seven times more requests than we have time for," said Nathalie Ouellette, outreach scientist with JWST Canada.

"So, it's seven to one odds on if someone will get time on it or not."

The $10 billion JWST is considered revolutionary. It can capture images of stars that are thousands of light-years away.

Heyl's project involves observing stars approximately 12,000 light-years away and searching for ancient planetary systems.

"So these stars (that are) like our sun are stars that were born right at the beginning of the universe – close to the beginning of the universe – so it would be really great to know if there were planets forming 10 billion years ago," said Heyl. "Could there have been life in our galaxy like us but five billion years ago? Or more?"

Ouellette tells CTV News that since the telescope has been operational, new research and discoveries have occurred at a rapid pace.

"It's kind of putting into question either our understanding of how galaxies form or maybe even the fundamental laws of physics and how the universe works," said Oullette.

Heyl says his research is far from over. He is expecting to receive new images generated by the telescope in the near future. Top Stories

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