While speaking with a student over Zoom on a seemingly normal day in April 2021, Associate Professor Jeyhan Kartaltepe received a Slack message with news that would alter her career.
“Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god,” said Associate Professor Caitlin Casey, Kartaltepe’s collaborator from the University of Texas in Austin.
“What’s going on?” asked Kartaltepe. “We got it! We got it,” replied Casey.
The Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) had just revealed the proposals selected for the General Observer programs for the James Webb Space Telescope’s (JWST) first year of operation. Panels of scientists had winnowed approximately 1,200 proposals into 266 programs approved for the telescope’s first year. The largest was COSMOS-Web, a massive study of thousands of the earliest galaxies in the universe to be led by Kartaltepe and Casey.
Since that day, Kartaltepe’s work with the most powerful observational instrument ever made has gone at light speed. The telescope had a long-awaited launch on Christmas Day 2021, released its first official images in summer 2022, and began collecting data for COSMOS-Web in January 2023. Ultimately, the telescope will help explain the origins of the universe.
“Everything about JWST so far has exceeded expectations,” said Kartaltepe. “The sensitivity is higher than people expected, and that almost never happens. This is better than we could have hoped for.”
Kartaltepe now has her hands full studying data from COSMOS-Web and other large JWST programs, while continuing to bolster her reputation as a teacher and mentor. Her work has gotten the attention of the astronomy community worldwide.
“She is a tremendous asset to RIT,” said Professor Bahram Mobasher, a longtime collaborator from the University of California Riverside. “RIT was already on the map, but she has really done a lot for that program.”