What Does James Webb Mean for Space Exploration?

Last week an amazing achievement was made in the space sector: after 14 years of delays we finally launched the James Webb Space Telescope!

For those who live under a rock or you’re Galileo resurrected from the dead, James Webb or JWST is an innovative telescope made by NASA, ESA, and the CSA that is designed to succeed Hubble in both its job and its performance.

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center from Greenbelt, MD, USA

The Design

I find the design is quite captivating. The primary mirror is made of 18 gold coated hexagons, which come together to act as one. This is much easier to manufacture than one giant mirror, hence the size of the mirror can be drastically increased compared to if one big mirror were made. Hubble’s mirror has a diameter of 2.4m, while James Webb’s is 6.5 m. The actual collecting area of James Webb is six times greater than Hubble’s.

James Webb will also be orbiting fairly far away from Earth, within the L2 Sun-Earth Lagrange point (learn more about that here, the Sun-Jupiter one is above). This position blocks the Sun’s heat and light, which keeps the craft cold.

What Will James Webb Do?

James Webb is designed to look in the near infrared/optical. This band of light is where distant objects tend to get redshifted to, and is one of the areas of light that we struggle to observe due to atmosphere or telescopes that are too hot. As explained, James Webb shouldn’t have these problems, however I can only speak conditionally since we cannot know for sure.

I highly recommend learning more about JW’s design here.

In the space sector, a lot of our conversation is around cosmology and extra-terrestrial life. Concepts such as Hubble’s constant, the creation of life and the beginning of the universe are being tackled more than ever, and in order to find answers our equipment needs to be up to scratch.

Artist’s Impression. Credit: NASA

James Webb was made to observe distant objects such as the first galaxies, and its high sensitivity allows it to look at “cold” objects like planets and their atmospheres. Both of these are strong in near-infrared, so JWST is really a spacecraft built for the current and future generation of astronomers!

I have extremely high hopes for JWST, and can’t wait to see all the things it uncovers in the future!

And again, please have a look at the JWST site to learn more about it and find out its progress!

And One Other Thing, For The Creative

NASA are hosting a #UnfoldTheUniverse challenge, where you can paint, sew, sing, or dance about James Webb or whatever you hope we’ll discover in space in the future. Find out more on their website!

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