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Head-and-shoulders portrait of STScI’s Interim Director Nancy Levenson, a white woman with short brown hair and blue eyes, who is smiling at the camera. She is dressed in a formal black jacket and scoop neck top. The background is a portion of Hubble's image of Westerlund 2, a giant cluster of thousands of stars.

Dr. Nancy Levenson reflects on Hubble and Webb’s scientific discoveries, Roman’s milestones, and shares details about two new large observing programs. 

About This Article

Astronomers around the world made discoveries on all scales of space and time throughout the cosmos following the James Webb Space Telescope’s first year of science. They peered into the earliest days of the universe to see the formation of galaxies, and captured details about planets both in our own solar system and elsewhere in our Milky Way galaxy. The demand to use Webb is truly record-breaking. As the telescope becomes more familiar to researchers, we continue to seek ways to improve its operations and the scientific results we deliver to the community. 

This year, the Hubble Space Telescope marked yet another major accomplishment by completing a survey of young stars in ultraviolet light. Known as ULLYSES, this extensive data set is already providing a highly detailed foundation for research about how stars form. Hubble and Webb continue to work in concert—expect to see many collaborative discoveries going forward. 

In addition to providing access to data from Hubble, Webb, and more than a dozen additional observatories, staff members who support the Barbara A. Mikulski Archive for Space Telescopes have been hard at work to improve accessibility of these data. Our goal is to help more professional and citizen scientists effectively use our resources. Our approaches to open data also lay a strong foundation for the Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope, which will involve using novel research techniques. We are already looking forward to the first availability of the science software platform that will let astronomers explore the flood of cosmic observations from Roman in advance of its launch, using simulated data now.

On the horizon are two new major Director’s Discretionary Time programs that rely on Webb and Hubble. They focus on exoplanets and long-term monitoring to capture variable sources. These programs, like ULLYSES, tackle significant problems and use the telescopes in novel ways that did not emerge from approved research programs. The global astronomical community has been involved in the development of these programs, providing science cases and making recommendations that will broaden their impacts. I look forward to establishing a systematic survey of rocky worlds and their host stars, and setting the baseline for Webb’s possible discovery of some of the very first stars in the universe. The results should be widely useful and enable a range of research.  

We are also looking ahead to the next great opportunity—the Habitable Worlds Observatory. Along with the worldwide scientific community, our staff are finding ways to apply their talents and creativity to make this upcoming flagship mission a reality. 

Our accomplishments at STScI rely on a breadth of skills, perspectives, and people. Everything we do is in service of the public and the science community. At STScI, we have the pleasure and awe of being part of civilization-scale efforts.  

My term as interim director ends in February 2024. Leading such a capable organization has been an absolute privilege. I welcome Dr. Jennifer Lotz as STScI’s new director. We have another exciting year ahead!