Science writer Natalie Wolchover has received a 2022 Pulitzer Prize for her work at Quanta Magazine explaining the intricate story of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, which launched in December.
Wolchover is a senior writer and editor for Quanta that has been there since the magazine’s inception in 2013. From 2010 to 2012 she was a staff writer (opens in new tab) for Space.com’s sister site, Live Science. The Pulitzer, which was awarded to the magazine on May 9 with a special mention to Wolchover, was given the explanatory reporting category.
The Pulitzer Commission has awarded the 2022 Prize for Explanatory Reporting “for reporting that highlighted the complexities of building the” James Webb Space Telescopedesigned to enable groundbreaking astronomical and cosmological research.” declared (opens in new tab)†
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Wolchover was recovering from COVID-19 when the news hit her. “I’m laying in bed in a covid daze struggling to believe this is real and not a fever dream,” she says joked on Twitter (opens in new tab)†
“It’s a great recognition for our entire team and for the ethos of science journalism,” she added of the award-winning story (opens in new tab)titled “The Webb Space Telescope Will Rewrite Cosmic History. If It Works.”
Wolchover’s story elegantly outlines the intricate engineering process that produced the James Webb Space Telescope, a $10 billion observatory that Launched over a decade late and way over budget. She notes that even after the launch (which took place on December 25, 2021; the article was published on December 3), Webb still faced numerous problems during the commissioning.
For example, she describes how the telescope was gently folded into the rocket to be deployed in space for the long journey into deep space, where a sunshade must be done just right to keep the telescope shielded from the sun that would interfere with the infrared. observations.
“The sunshade is both an infrared telescope’s only hope and its Achilles’ heel. To unfold to sufficient proportions without weighing down a rocket, the sunshade must be made of thin cloth,” she wrote.
After discussing Webb’s small mass compared to a ground-based telescope, a necessity to get the groundbreaking observatory into space, she delved deeper into the dust issue.
I lay in bed in a covid daze and struggle to believe this is real and not a fever dream. I mean, holy crap. Thank you all for the nice messages!!! https://t.co/BZqYpJOkrvMay 9, 2022
“There’s nothing easy about building a giant yet lightweight infrared-sensitive spacecraft, but the inevitable use of dust makes it an inherently risky business,” Wolchover said. “Dust, engineers say, is ‘non-deterministic’, its movements are impossible to perfectly control or predict. If the sunshade snags as it unfolds, the entire telescope will turn into space junk.”
Fortunately, Webb’s deployment went well, and after nearly five consecutive months of commissioning in space, NASA also coincidentally announced in May that the observatory within the ‘home stretch’ of the commissioning period of 1000 steps. The first scientific images of the space telescope are expected in July.
Wolchover also notes in the article the groundbreaking research Webb will conduct if everything goes according to plan as it explores the early universe, finds the first galaxies and otherwise tries to understand the forces that shaped the cosmos.
Wolchover was a staff writer at Live Science, a sister publication to Space.com, between 2010 and 2012. Notable stories she wrote for Live Science in her last few months there included sketching the top mysteries of physics (opens in new tab)a discussion about whether the Voyager 1 . spacecraft left the solar system (opens in new tab)and the physics of the first supersonic space dive (opens in new tab)† Wolchover too occasionally wrote for Space.com†
She has a bachelor’s degree in physics from Tufts University and majored in physics at the University of California, Berkeley, according to her Live Science biography, and won numerous other journalism awards for the Pulitzer. She was the 2016 winner of the Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual award for young science journalists, and the 2017 winner of the American Institute of Physics Science Communication Award.
“Her work has also appeared in The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science,” her Live Science biography states (opens in new tab)†
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