Solar System Exploration Division

John C Mather


John C Mather's Contact Card & Information.
Phone: 301.286.6885
Org Code: 660
Mail Code 443
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Missions & Projects


Senior Astrophysicist and Goddard Fellow

NASA - Email: Phone: 301-286-6885 Fax: 301-286-5558 Org Code 660, Mail Code 443, Greenbelt, MD 20771

1995 - Present



Study Scientist, Senior Project Scientist, James Webb Space Telescope


1995 - 2023

Brief Bio

Dr. John C. Mather is a Senior Astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. His research centers on infrared astronomy and cosmology. As an NRC postdoctoral fellow at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (New York City), he led the proposal efforts for the Cosmic Background Explorer (74-76), and came to GSFC to be the Study Scientist (76-88), Project Scientist (88-98), and also the Principal Investigator for the Far IR Absolute Spectrophotometer (FIRAS) on COBE. He showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation has a blackbody spectrum within 50 ppm. As Senior Project Scientist (95-present) for the James Webb Space Telescope, he leads the science team, and represents scientific interests within the project management. He has served on advisory and working groups for the National Academy of Sciences, NASA, and the NSF (for the ALMA, the Atacama Large Millimeter Array, and for the CARA, the Center for Astrophysical Research in the Antarctic). He has received many awards including the Nobel Prize in Physics, 2006, for his precise measurements of the cosmic microwave background radiation using the COBE satellite.

Teaching Experience

 Lecturer, Columbia University, 1975-76, Physics

Current Projects

Current Projects


JWST, James Webb Space Telescope

Previous projects:
COBE, Cosmic Background Explorer

WISE, Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer

MPF, Microlensing Planet Finder (did not fly, but science incorporated in WFIRST)

SAFIR, Single Aperture Far InfraRed telescope (did not fly, but may become Origins Space Telescope)

SPECS, Submillimeter Probe of the Evolution of Cosmic Structure (did not fly, an ambitious idea to follow SPECS)

ORCAS, Orbiting Configurable Artificial Star

Enables visible band diffraction limited imaging with ground-based telescopes by providing a laser beacon in space. Possible observations range from the Milky Way Galactic Center, to exoplanets, to active galactic nuclei, galactic structure, and stellar populations. Decadal Survey white paper link

Orbiting Starshade

Extrasolar Planets

A starshade orbiting Earth will cast a shadow of an exoplanet host star onto an extremely large telescope. Earthlike exoplanets could be imaged in minutes and their spectra measured in an hour. 2020 Decadal Survey link


1968 B.A. (Physics), Swarthmore College, (Highest Honors, Phi Beta Kappa)
1974 Ph.D. (Physics), Univ. of California at Berkeley (4.0 GPA)

Professional Societies

American Astronomical Society, American Physical Society, Sigma Xi, International Astronomical Union, National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Optical Society of America, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE), SPS (Society of Physics Students), Sigma Pi Sigma (honorary)

2013 - Present

Professional Service

1992 - 1994 Chair, Board of External Advisors, Center for Astrophysical Research in Antarctic (CARA)
1992 Member, NASA Lunar Astrophysics Management Operations Working Group
1992 - pres Adjunct Professor, Physics, University of Maryland
1995 Member, National Acad. of Sciences committee on GP-B
1996 - 1998 Member, Structure and Evolution of the Universe subcommittee
1996 Co-Chair, Origins Technology Working Group
1996 - 2000 Member, New Millennium Program Science Working Group
1998 - 2002 Member, MMA (Millimeter Array, became ALMA) Oversight Committee for NSF
1998 - 2001 Councilor, American Astronomical Society
1998 - 2001 NAS/NRC Board on Physics and Astronomy
1999 HST Second Decade Committee, Bob Brown, Chair
2001 - 2002 Member, National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Physics of the Universe
2003 Member, National Academy of Sciences committee on GP-B
2003-2005 Member, Standing Review Board, Kepler project
2005 Member, Exoplanet Roadmap Committee
2006-2007 Member, Astrophysics Subcommittee, NASA Advisory Committee
2006 - President, John and Jane Mather Foundation for Science and the Arts
2008 - Member, Board of Directors, Center for Excellence in Education
2008 Chair, Blue Ribbon panel, SOFIA scientific program review
2010 - 2011 Member, National Academy of Science committee, “Conceptual Framework for New Science Education Standards”
2015- Member, NAS Board on Science Education
2015- Member, review panel for Koshland Science Museum at NAS


Open Scholarship (honorary), Swarthmore, 1964-68
Putnam national math contest, 1967, 27th place nationwide
Highest possible score (990), physics Grad Records, 1968
Highest Honors and Phi Beta Kappa, Swarthmore 1968
NSF Fellowship and honorary Woodrow Wilson Fellowship 1968-70
Hertz Foundation Fellowship, 1970-74
Group Achievement Award, GSFC, 1978
Exceptional Achievement Award, GSFC, 1986
Certificate of Recognition, Inventions and Contributions, GSFC, 1986
John C. Lindsay Memorial Award (NASA-GSFC), 1990
Group Achievement Award (NASA-GSFC), 1990
NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Award, 1991
NASA Group Achievement Award, 1991
Rotary National Space Achievement Award, 1991
National Air and Space Museum Trophy, 1991
Aviation Week and Space Technology Laurels, 1992, for Space/Missiles
Discover Magazine Technology Award finalist, 1993
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Space Science Award, 1993
Dannie Heineman Prize for Astrophysics, American Astronomical Society and American
Institute of Physics, 1993 (presented Jan. 1994)
Senior Astrophysicist (3104 position), 1993, GSFC
Goddard Fellow, 1994, GSFC
Honorary Doctor of Science Degree, Swarthmore College, 1994
John Scott Award, City of Philadelphia, 1995
Rumford Prize, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1996
Fellow, American Physical Society, 1996
Hall of Fame, Aviation Week and Space Technology, 1997
Member, National Academy of Sciences, 1997
GSFC Group Achievement Award, Next Generation Space Telescope, 1997
Marc Aaronson Memorial Prize, 1998
Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1998
Benjamin Franklin Medal in Physics, Franklin Institute, 1999
NASA/GSFC Outstanding Teamwork award for NGST SEB, 1999
Newton (NJ) High School Hall of Fame, 2003
Presidential Rank Distinguished Performance award, NASA, 2003
George W. Goddard Award, Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers, 2005
Cosmology prize, Pat and Peter Gruber Foundation, 2006
Nobel Prize in Physics, with George Smoot, 2006
Fellow, Society of Photo-optical Instrumentation Engineers, 2006
Award in Physics, Washington Academy of Sciences, 2006
Antoinette de Vaucouleurs medal, U of TX, 2007
NASA Distinguished Service Medal, 2007
Robinson Prize in Cosmology, Newcastle University, 2008
Presidential Rank Distinguished Performance award, NASA, 2008
D. Sci. (Honorary), University of Maryland, College Park, 2008
Fellow, Optical Society of America, 2009
Gold Medal, Prime Minister of India, 2009
Award of Excellence, NJ Educational Association, 2010
GSFC Group Achievement Award, WISE science team, 2011
Daniel Chalonge medal, Observatoire de Paris, 2011
D. Sci. (honoris causa), University of Notre Dame, 2011
Fellow, American Association for Advancement of Science, 2012
Award of Excellence, Carson Scholars Foundation, 2013
Regents' Lecturer, University of California, Berkeley, 2013Circle of Discovery, University of Maryland, 2013
Robert Goddard award to GSFC JWST science team, 2016

Philip J. Klass award, National Capital Area Skeptics, 2016

Honorary life member, Optical Society of America, 2016

Honorary D.Sci. degree, Muhlenberg College, 2017

Legacy Fellow, American Astronomical Society, 2020



2023. "The Science Performance of JWST as Characterized in Commissioning." Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific 135 (1046): 048001 [10.1088/1538-3873/acb293] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "Status of the James Webb Space Telescope mission." Proceedings of the SPIE 11443 114430T [10.1117/12.2562425] [Proceedings]

2016. "The Space High Angular Resolution Probe for the Infrared (SHARP-IR)." Space Telescopes and Instrumentation 2016: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Wave [10.1117/12.2231790] [Proceedings]

2016. "Cosmic Infrared Background Fluctuations and Zodiacal Light." The Astrophysical Journal 824 (1): 26 [10.3847/0004-637x/824/1/26] [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "THE WIDE-FIELD INFRARED SURVEY EXPLORER (WISE): MISSION DESCRIPTION AND INITIAL ON-ORBIT PERFORMANCE." The Astronomical Journal 140 (6): 1868-1881 [10.1088/0004-6256/140/6/1868] [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "The Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE): Mission Description and Initial On-orbit Performance." The Astronomical Journal 140 1868 [Full Text] [10.1088/0004-6256/140/6/1868] [Journal Article/Letter]

2008. "Dynamical zodiacal cloud models constrained by high resolution spectroscopy of the zodiacal light." Icarus 194 769 [Full Text] [10.1016/j.icarus.2007.11.009] [Journal Article/Letter]

2007. "The space infrared interferometric telescope (SPIRIT): High-resolution imaging and spectroscopy in the far-infrared." Advances in Space Research 40 (5): 689-703 [Full Text] [10.1016/j.asr.2007.05.081] [Journal Article/Letter]

2007. "Nobel Lecture: From the Big Bang to the Nobel Prize and beyond." Reviews of Modern Physics, vol 79, Issue 4, pp 1331-1348 79 1331 [Full Text] [10.1103/RevModPhys.79.1331] [Journal Article/Letter]

2006. "The Space Infrared Interferometric Telescope (SPIRIT): mission study results." Space Telescopes and Instrumentation I: Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter [10.1117/12.669820] [Proceedings]

2006. "The James Webb Space Telescope." Space Science Reviews 123 485 [Full Text] [10.1007/s11214-006-8315-7] [Journal Article/Letter]

2004. "A SPECS update: engineering and technology requirements for a space-based far-IR imaging interferometer." New Frontiers in Stellar Interferometry [10.1117/12.552104] [Proceedings]

2004. "A SPECS update: engineering and technology requirements for a space-based far-IR imaging interferometer." New Frontiers in Stellar Interferometry [10.1117/12.552104] [Proceedings]

2004. "The Microlensing Planet Finder: completing the census of extrasolar planets in the Milky Way." Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Space Telescopes [10.1117/12.551305] [Proceedings]

2004. "The science case and mission concept for the Single Aperture Far-Infrared (SAFIR) Observatory." Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Space Telescopes [10.1117/12.551335] [Proceedings]

2004. "SPECS: the kilometer-baseline far-IR interferometer in NASA's space science roadmap." Optical, Infrared, and Millimeter Space Telescopes [10.1117/12.552150] [Proceedings]

2004. "A SPECS update: engineering and technology requirements for a space-based far-IR imaging interferometer." New Frontiers in Stellar Interferometry, Proceedings of SPIE Volume 5491 Edited by Wesley A Traub Bellingham, WA: The International Society for Optical Engineering, 2004, p212 5491 212 [Full Text] [Journal Article/Letter]

2004. "Detecting Population III Stars through Observations of Near-Infrared Cosmic Infrared Background Anisotropies." The Astrophysical Journal 608 1 [Full Text] [10.1086/386365] [Journal Article/Letter]

2004. "Mission Concept for the Single Aperture Far-Infrared (SAFIR) Observatory." Astrophysics and Space Science 294 177 [Full Text] [10.1007/s10509-004-5377-4] [Journal Article/Letter]

2003. "The Galactic Exoplanet Survey Telescope (GEST)." Future EUV/UV and Visible Space Astrophysics Missions and Instrumentation [10.1117/12.459816] [Proceedings]

2003. "David Todd Wilkinson." Physics Today 56 76 [Full Text] [10.1063/1.1583543] [Journal Article/Letter]

2003. "Migration of Trans-Neptunian Objects to the Terrestrial Planets." Earth, Moon, and Planets, v 92, Issue 1, p 89-98 (2003) 92 89 [Full Text] [10.1023/B:MOON.0000031928.45965.7b] [Journal Article/Letter]

2001. "Wide-field Imaging Interferometry." American Astronomical Society, 198th AAS Meeting, #5118; Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, Vol 33, p861 198 861 [Full Text] [Journal Article/Letter]

2001. "The Wide Field Imaging Interferometry Testbed." American Astronomical Society, 198th AAS Meeting, #7603; Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, Vol 33, p901 198 901 [Full Text] [Journal Article/Letter]

2000. "Signatures of Exosolar Planets in Dust Debris Disks." The Astrophysical Journal 537 L147 [Full Text] [10.1086/312779] [Journal Article/Letter]

1997. "Quasi-Stationary States of Dust Flows Under Poynting-Robertson Drag: New Analytical And Numerical Solutions." The Astrophysical Journal 488 268-276 [Full Text] [Journal Article/Letter]

1994. "Morphology of the interstellar cooling lines detected by COBE." ApJL 434 587-598 [10.1086/174761] [Journal Article/Letter]

1980. "Vibrationally Excited Silicon Monoxide Masers." Proc. of the IAU Symposium No. 87 537-538 [Journal Article/Letter]


2017. "Development of an Atom Interferometer Gravity Gradiometer for Earth Sciences." 48th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Atomic, Molecular and Optical Physics, June 5–9, 2017, Sacramento, California 62 (8): [Full Text] [Other]

2010. "Completing the Census of Exoplanets with the Microlensing Planet Finder (MPF)." ArXiv e-prints [Report]

2009. "Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST): A Technology Roadmap for the Next Decade." eprint arXiv:09040941 0904 941 [Full Text] [Journal Article/Letter]

2004. "Completing the Census of Extrasolar Planets in the Milky Way with the Microlensing Planet Finder." American Astronomical Society Meeting Abstracts 205 11.26 [Proceedings]

2003. "The Galactic Exoplanet Survey Telescope (GEST) Proposed Discovery Mission." American Astronomical Society Meeting Abstracts 203 136.03 [Proceedings]

2002. "The Galactic Exoplanet Survey Telescope: A Unique Probe of the Exoplanetary Mass Function in the Milky Way Galaxy." American Astronomical Society Meeting Abstracts 201 21.13 [Proceedings]

2000. "The NGST and the zodiacal light in the Solar system." NGST Science and Technology Exposition. Eds. E.P. Smith & K.S. Long, ASP Series 207 462-467 [Full Text] [Article in Book]