< Back to All Articles

Understanding the Nearby Star-Forming Universe with JWST

E. Sabbi (sabbi[at]stsci.edu), M. Robberto, and M. Sirianni

We organized the science workshop "Understanding the Nearby Star-Forming Universe with JWST" in the Pavillon Du Mont-Frety, on the Mont Blanc, Courmayeur, Italy, from August 26–30, 2019. Despite the tremendous observational and theoretical progress achieved in the past two decades, understanding the way nature assembles matter into stars remains one of the key problems in astrophysics. With its unprecedented near- and mid-infrared sensitivity and spatial resolution, the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope promises to open new, unexplored, windows on complex phenomena that affect and regulate how the process of star formation, such as mass accretion, outflows, radiative energy, and momentum feedback into the parental cloud and nearby young stellar objects. The scientific program consisted of 17 invited talks, 22 contributed talks, a poster session, and daily tutorials on how to plan observations with the JWST instruments.

The aim of the conference was to bring together observers and theorists to discuss the best diagnostics and identify the most efficient observing strategies to achieve the full science potential from the Webb mission in the field of star formation. Members of the Guaranteed Time Observation and of the Early Release Science programs described their projects.

The presentations at the workshop highlighted the importance of accretion on the early stages of star and planet formation, and the role of the dense, dusty filaments in giant molecular clouds in feeding the formation of clumps and clusters of stars. The evolution of protostellar and protoplanetary disks was one of the major topics of discussion. Webb will play a major role in determining how the disks evolve, on which time scale, and how stellar feedback from massive neighbors can affect these systems, with consequences for the formation and survivability of planetary systems.

What is determining the shape of the stellar mass function, as well as what that shape really is remains matter of debate. Different theories predict different mechanisms for how and how fast stars build up their mass, and several talks were devoted to highlight how spatially resolved infrared observations will likely provide new insights on this long-lasting issue.

Synergies between JWST and other facilities were discussed. In particular, presenters discussed how JWST and ALMA will allow us to simultaneously characterize the structure and the chemical composition of protoplanetary disks, highlighting the distribution of ice, and small and large dust grains. The all-sky surveys of WISE found very embedded sources, where we did not know that SF is occurring. These regions, too embedded to be found in optical surveys, will be primary targets to investigate and characterize the earlier phases of star-cluster formation.

Each afternoon hosted a session dedicated to the Webb planning tools, including detailed demos and presentations on the JWST Exposure Time Calculator and the Astronomer's Proposal Tool. The last tutorial was devoted to the properties, strengths, and limitations of the Near-Infrared Spectrograph (NIRSpec) micro-shutter array (MSA), and included a demonstration of how to use the NIRSpec MSA planning tool.

The workshop was a great opportunity for the participants to share recent results and discuss new projects to be done with Webb. We are grateful to Gabriella Ardizzoia, Jean Marc Christille, and Sherita Hanna for the technical and logistic organization, and to all the other members of the SOC (J. Bally, C. Beichman, D. Calzetti, R. Doyon, D. Gouliermis, T. Henning, C. Lada, M. Meixner, A. Nota) for the successful organization of the conference and its content. The conference was jointly organized by STScI, ESA, the Astronomical Observatory of the Autonomous Region of Aosta Valley, the Turin Astrophysical Observatory, and the Consorzio Interuniversitario per la Fisica Spaziale, also based in Turin.

Group Photo
Figure 1: Participants of the science workshop "Understanding the Nearby Star-Forming Universe with JWST," held on the Mont Blanc, Courmayeur, Italy, in August 2019.