Exploring strange new worlds, searching for new intelligent life around the galaxy, and understanding the origin of the universe is increasingly becoming important to scientists today. All these might have sounded like a plot in a new science fiction film a few years back, but those are the objectives of the New James Webb Space Telescope. This telescope is the long-awaited successor of the Hubble Space Telescope, which Nasa is planning to launch in partnership with Canada and the European Space Agency.
The launch will take the Webb almost a million miles away and Nasa plans to do that on 18th December 2021. When deployed in space, the telescope will mark a new dawn for astronomy and show humanity things they’ve never seen before. According to MIT’s planetary scientist and astrophysicist, Sara Seager, the new telescope culminates decades of astronomy that many scientists have been eagerly waiting for.
Scientists started looking forward to a follow-up before the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and three decades down the line, it remains unclear how long the boundary-breaking satellite will be scanning the universe. Originally, the Webb was expected to launch in 2010, with a price tag of around a billion dollars. However, the cost has increased to $10 billion and many say it’s way overdue, but the long wait is worthwhile for scientists.
According to the University of Texas assistant astronomy Professor Caitlin Casey, the Webb takes us to the edge of our observable universe and scientists are excited to see what is there. The Webb is expected to surpass the Hubble in various ways, which explains the excitement in the astronomy world.
The Webb will enable astronomers to look farther into space and further back in time as it will be searching for the first galaxies and stars in the universe. It will also allow astronomers to carefully study numerous exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars besides our sun) and embark on searching for life signs there. Here’s a quick guide to what the James Webb Telescope is capable of doing:
The Webb’s Golden Mirror is a Huge Leap For This Kind of Telescopes
Named after the world-renowned astronomer Edwin Hubble, the launch of Webb’s predecessor (the Hubble Space Telescope) was a huge step for astronomy. Most astronomers on earth search for remote deserts and mountains to get the best chance to view the dark sky, away from bright lights and pollution. However, the view is still obstructed by luminescence and a slight haze of the earth’s atmosphere.
As NASA explains it, space is the best mountaintop, making it the best viewing point. The Hubble has helped astronomers a lot during the last three decades, as it has sent us unforgettable images like those of the Pillars of Creation and the Lagoon Nebula. The Hubble has also taught us more about the universe’s age, black holes, and what happens when stars explode.
The Hubble has also helped astronomers establish various boundaries that Webb will be hoping to expand. Its observations led scientists to believe that our universe is expanding at an incredible rate, powered by a mysterious substance they call “Dark Energy”.
The Webb was named after a man who was the head of NASA during the decade that led to the moon landing, taking all of this a step further. According to NASA’s astrophysicist working on the Web, Amber Straughn, we will be getting a telescope that’s around 100 times more powerful compared to the Hubble.
How is Webb Better than Hubble?
Webb has improved on Hubble in two main areas. The first is its size, as the Hubble was the size of a school bus, while the Webb is going to be the size of a tennis court. That makes Webb the largest telescope that NASA has ever tried sending into space. However, the total size of its contraption isn’t the only thing that matters.
In terms of reflecting telescopes, its main component is the size of the curved mirror that makes it. The telescope mirror looks like a light bucket, says Straughn. That means the more light that can be collected in this light bucket, the farther away and fainters the things you can observe in the universe.
Hubble’s mirror had an incredible diameter of 7.8 feet, while Webb’s gold-hued mirrors have a combined diameter of 21.3 feet. That total to over 6 times of its time-collecting area.
What Does This Mean?
Considering Hubble’s most iconic images known as the Deep Field captured by scientists in 1995, the telescope sent back an astounding picture of a teeny-tiny patch on the sky the size of a pinhead. The Hubble also revealed thousands of other galaxies in the tiny patch on the sky, helping scientists to refine the number of existing galaxies existing in the universe.
The Webb will be pushing that field further, allowing tiny specks of light shown on the Hubble’s background to brighten and be visible in more detail. Astronomers like Casey will also be able to look far back and potentially see stars and galaxies for the first time.