The science case for a far-infrared interferometer in the era of JWST and ALMA

David Leisawitz, Matteo Bonato, Duncan Farrah, T. Tupper Hyde, Aláine Lee, Joshua Bennett Lovell, Brenda Matthews, Lee G. Mundy, Conor Nixon, Petr Pokorny, Berke V. Ricketti, Giorgio Savini, Jeremy Scott, Irene Shivaei, Locke Spencer, Kate Su, C. Megan Urry, David Wilner

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution


A space-based far-infrared interferometer could work synergistically with the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA) to revolutionize our understanding of the astrophysical processes leading to the formation of habitable planets and the co-evolution of galaxies and their central supermassive black holes. Key to these advances are measurements of water in its frozen and gaseous states, observations of astronomical objects in the spectral range where most of their light is emitted, and access to critical diagnostic spectral lines, all of which point to the need for a far-infrared observatory in space. The objects of interest – circumstellar disks and distant galaxies – typically appear in the sky at sub-arcsecond scales, which rendered all but a few of them unresolvable with the successful and now-defunct 3.5-m Herschel Space Observatory, the largest far-infrared telescope flown to date. A far-infrared interferometer with maximum baseline length in the tens of meters would match the angular resolution of JWST at 10x longer wavelengths and observe water ice and water-vapor emission, which ALMA can barely do through the Earth’s atmosphere. Such a facility was conceived and studied two decades ago. Here we revisit the science case for a space-based far-infrared interferometer in the era of JWST and ALMA and summarize the measurement capabilities that will enable the interferometer to achieve a set of compelling scientific objectives. Common to all the science themes we consider is a need for sub-arcsecond image resolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationInfrared Remote Sensing and Instrumentation XXXI
EditorsMarija Strojnik, Jorn Helbert
ISBN (Electronic)9781510665866
StatePublished - 2023
EventInfrared Remote Sensing and Instrumentation XXXI 2023 - San Diego, United States
Duration: Aug 21 2023 → …

Publication series

NameProceedings of SPIE - The International Society for Optical Engineering
ISSN (Print)0277-786X
ISSN (Electronic)1996-756X


ConferenceInfrared Remote Sensing and Instrumentation XXXI 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CitySan Diego
Period8/21/23 → …


  • Atacama Large Millimeter Array
  • James Webb Space Telescope
  • far-infrared
  • interferometer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering


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