The JWST Galactic Center Survey — A White Paper

Kavli Affiliate: Lijing Shao

| First 5 Authors: Rainer Schoedel, Steve Longmore, Jonny Henshaw, Adam Ginsburg, John Bally

| Summary:

The inner hundred parsecs of the Milky Way hosts the nearest supermassive
black hole, largest reservoir of dense gas, greatest stellar density, hundreds
of massive main and post main sequence stars, and the highest volume density of
supernovae in the Galaxy. As the nearest environment in which it is possible to
simultaneously observe many of the extreme processes shaping the Universe, it
is one of the most well-studied regions in astrophysics. Due to its proximity,
we can study the center of our Galaxy on scales down to a few hundred AU, a
hundred times better than in similar Local Group galaxies and thousands of
times better than in the nearest active galaxies. The Galactic Center (GC) is
therefore of outstanding astrophysical interest. However, in spite of intense
observational work over the past decades, there are still fundamental things
unknown about the GC. JWST has the unique capability to provide us with the
necessary, game-changing data. In this White Paper, we advocate for a JWST
NIRCam survey that aims at solving central questions, that we have identified
as a community: i) the 3D structure and kinematics of gas and stars; ii)
ancient star formation and its relation with the overall history of the Milky
Way, as well as recent star formation and its implications for the overall
energetics of our galaxy’s nucleus; and iii) the (non-)universality of star
formation and the stellar initial mass function. We advocate for a large-area,
multi-epoch, multi-wavelength NIRCam survey of the inner 100,pc of the Galaxy
in the form of a Treasury GO JWST Large Program that is open to the community.
We describe how this survey will derive the physical and kinematic properties
of ~10,000,000 stars, how this will solve the key unknowns and provide a
valuable resource for the community with long-lasting legacy value.

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