James Webb Space Telescope: Who are the 3 Indians who helped NASA capture ‘ The Unseen Universe’?

13 July, 2022 | Riya Girdhar

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Three Indian-origin scientists and experts were among those who contributed to this historic achievement.

The views of the Universe continue to improve. On July 12, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope released four new scientific images, including newborn stars shining through dramatic ‘cliffs’ of gas and galaxies interacting in an intricate cosmic dance. Astronomers had marvelled at its very first image, a mind-boggling deep dive into the distant Universe, just a day before.

Webb observes the universe in infrared wavelengths, which distinguishes it from other observatories such as the Hubble Space Telescope. Webb’s 6.5-metre-wide mirror is the largest ever launched into space, and the combination of the large mirror and its infrared detection capabilities allows Webb to see many astronomical phenomena in unprecedented detail.

This includes stars and shock waves created when galaxies collide in Stephan’s Quintet, a group of five galaxies 90 million parsecs away in the constellation Pegasus. Webb’s images of the galaxy cluster show millions of young stars forming as gas and dust collide, as well as sweeping tails left by one of the galaxies, NGC 7318B, as it storms through the cluster. “It really shows the type of interaction that drives the evolution of galaxies,” says Giovanna Giardino, a European Space Agency astronomer.

However, this phenomenal development took place in NASA, as one knows it well, but what remains uncovered is the fact that there were 3 Indians who were also behind this revolutionary occurence. Here’s everything about the Indians who helped NASA capture the ‘Universe’s Deepest Images’

Dr Hashima Hasan

Lucknow-born Dr. Hashima Hasan is the James Webb Space Telescope’s Deputy Project Scientist.

According to the James Webb Space Telescope website, as Deputy Program Scientist, she is in charge of monitoring and managing the telescope’s science programme. She ensures that “its mission remains feasible and consistent with NASA’s strategic objectives.” Her fascination with space began when she was five years old.

Dr. Hasan discussed how she became interested in space in a NASA video.

“I grew up in India and became interested in space when my grandmother took us all to the backyard to see Sputnik.” I was five years old at the time. “I was very excited and wanted to be a scientist,” Hasan said.

She studied at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Mumbai after completing her undergraduate studies at Aligarh Muslim University. She was also employed at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC). Oxford University awarded her a doctorate in Theoretical Nuclear Physics.
She joined NASA in 1994 and has worked as a programme scientist on a number of missions.

Kalyani Sukhatme

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Kalyani Sukhatme worked as the Project Manager for the Mid-Infrared Instrument (MIRI), one of the telescope’s instruments.

Kalyani Sukhatme was the project manager for the Mid-Infrared Instrument, or MIRI, one of the four science instruments on the James Webb Space Telescope, according to sources.

She is currently employed at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology.

She was raised in Mumbai and received her Bachelor of Technology (BTech) from IIT Mumbai. She then went on to earn her Master’s and Doctorate degrees in physics from the University of California. In 1998, she began working as a postdoctoral fellow at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

In 2012, she received the European Space Agency’s James Webb Space Telescope award for significant achievement.

In April 2010, she took over as MIRI project manager at JPL. She has helped to advance the technology of infrared detectors and their use in spaceflight missions.

Kartik Sheth

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Indian-origin Kartik Sheth is a programme scientist in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate’s astrophysics division. His current projects include the James Webb Space Telescope, SOFIA, Spitzer, and the Origins Space Telescopes, as well as the Hubble Fellowship Program.

According to NASA, “he has been a programme scientist in both the Astrophysics and Earth Science Divisions at NASA for the past seven years, overseeing space missions and research and development programmes in cutting-edge technology and working towards some of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals.”

He earned his MS and PhD in astronomy from the University of Maryland. Before joining NASA, he worked at Caltech. He was a tenured astronomer at Charlottesville’s National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

He received NASA’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Award in 2022 for his work as the leader of the Anti-Racism Action group.