Science writer Natalie Wolchover has received a Pulitzer Prize 2022 for her work on Quanta Magazine, which explains the intricate story of NASA’s space telescope James Webb, which was launched in December.
Wolchover is a senior writer and editor for Quanta who has been there since the magazine’s start 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 newspaper on May 9 with a special mention for Wolchover, was given in the explanatory reporting category.
The Pulitzer Committee awarded the 2022 Explanatory Reporting Award “for coverage that revealed the complexity of building James Webb Space Telescopedesigned to facilitate pioneering astronomical and cosmological research, “the organization said stated (opens in new tab).
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Wolchover was recovering from covid-19 when the news reached her. “I’m lying in bed in a covid fog and struggling to believe this is real and not a fever dream,” she joked on Twitter (opens in new tab).
“It’s a wonderful recognition for our entire team and for the ethics of science journalism,” she added of the award-winning story (opens in new tab)entitled “The Space Telescope Webb will write about cosmic history. If it works.”
Wolchover’s story elegantly traces the confusing engineering process that produced the James Webb Space Telescope, a $ 10 billion observatory that was launched more than a decade late and much over budget. She notes that even after the launch (which took place December 25, 2021; the article was published December 3), Webb still had to face many problems during commissioning.
For example, she describes how the telescope is gently folded into the rocket to be rolled out into space for the long journey to a place in deep space, where a sunshade must be made just right to keep the telescope shielded from sun that would interfere with infrared light. observations.
“The sun shield is both the only hope of an infrared telescope and its Achilles heel. In order to unfold to large enough proportions without weighing down a rocket, the sun shield must consist of thin fabric,” she wrote.
After discussing Webb’s small mass compared to a ground-based telescope, a necessity to bring the groundbreaking observatory into space, she further developed the fabric question.
I’m lying in bed in a covid fog, struggling to believe that this is real and not a fever dream. I mean, holy shit. Thank you all for nice messages !!! https://t.co/BZqYpJOkrv9 May 2022
“Nothing about building a giant yet lightweight infrared-sensing spacecraft is easy, but the inevitable use of fabric makes it a risky business in itself,” Wolchover said. “The fabric is, say engineers, ‘non-deterministic’, its movements impossible to perfectly control or predict. If the sunshade hooks as it unfolds, the entire telescope will turn into space debris.”
Fortunately, Webb’s deployment went well, and after nearly five consecutive months of deployment in space, NASA also announced by chance in May that the observatory is within the “home route” of the 1,000-step deployment period. The first scientific images from the space telescope is expected in July.
Wolchover also notes in the article the groundbreaking research Webb will perform if all goes according to plan, as it examines the early universe, searches for the first galaxies and otherwise tries to understand the forces that shaped the cosmos.
Wolchover was a staff writer at LiveScience, a sister publication to Space.com, between 2010 and 2012. Remarkable stories she wrote for LiveScience in her recent months there include describing the main mysteries of physics (opens in new tab)a discussion on whether the Voyager 1 spacecraft had left the solar system (opens in new tab)and physics in first supersonic dive (opens in new tab). Wolchover too sometimes wrote for Space.com.
She has a bachelor’s degree in physics from Tufts University and studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley, according to her Live Science biography, and before Pulitzer she won many other journalistic awards. She was the 2016 winner of the Evert Clark / Seth Payne Award, an annual award for young science journalists, and the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.
“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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