NASA's James Webb Space Telescope

Your JWST Cycle 1 Proposal: Don’t Wait until the Last Minute

News Feature January 30, 2018

Cycle 1 General Observer proposals are due April 6, 2018. While it may seem like there is plenty of time to prepare your proposals, April will be here in no time. Some of the tools you need to use require a certain amount of effort to learn their use, and you shouldn’t wait until the last minute! In addition to familiarizing yourself with the technical requirements, you should review the Cycle 1 Call for Proposals, including the science policies and proposal checklist. We want to ensure you have all of the information you need and share some tips to help with your proposal planning.

As a reminder, JWST uses a “single-stream” approach to proposals. This means that all information about the proposed science and observations are provided up front at the time of submission. This is similar to the process used at other space observatories (such as Spitzer and Chandra), but is different from the two-step proposal process familiar to HST users.

You will want to learn to use the JWST Exposure Time Calculator (ETC) to verify the feasibility of your JWST proposed observations as well as to determine the exposure specifications needed for your proposal.  The ETC is a powerful and flexible new tool, but involves a learning curve in order to use it effectively.

You will also use the Astronomer’s Proposal Tool (APT) to submit your observing requirements using a set of templates for specific instrument modes. These requirements include:

  • A full list of targets;
  • Specifications of the observations (instrument and mode of use, filters/gratings, dither pattern, and exposure specifications); and
  • Any user-requested scheduling constraints needed for your science case. 

In addition to these primary proposal tools, there are several other specialized tools you may want to investigate (e.g., target visibility tools, infrared background tool, etc.), depending on your science case.

The following resources are also available to help you with your proposal preparation:

JDox is a robust online resource designed to provide the astronomical community with accurate, user-friendly documentation related to the JWST observatory, instruments, and observation planning tools. With over 650 articles, there is a lot of information available on JDox. JDox is searchable with Google or by using the search tool within JDox itself.

While there is not one single way to proceed with proposing, here is an example work flow to provide some guidance. Feel free to adapt this to your own experience and learning style:

  1. Determine which instrument and observing mode you want to use by starting at the JWST Observing Methods article and identifying which article(s) match your science goals.
  2. Understand the full process at a glance by examining the JWST Science Use Cases and identify a case that uses the specific instrument and observing mode you want to use.
  3. Learn more by reading about the observing mode on the relevant JWST Instruments page.
  4. Determine which observing parameters you need to choose for the specific instrument and mode.
  5. Make an informed decision about optimal parameters by reviewing the JWST Recommended Observing Strategies article. Keep in mind, there is no one “best” option to choose since your science goals will drive the decision.
  6. Review the science use case article for your observing mode more carefully and exploring the ETC and APT links for background material so you can decide on your exposure parameters. Many ETC sections of the science use case articles start with defining a source (or sources) and creating a scene in ETC. There are also video tutorials that will walk you through getting started in ETC and APT and illustrate additional functionalities in APT.

If you have a specific question while crafting your JWST proposal, please reach out to the JWST Help Desk .