Serving as a Christmas gift to space fans the world over, NASA launched its revolutionary new space observatory, the James Webb Space Telescope, on December 25, from South America. The launch marks the start of one of the most anticipated missions in years and could change the way we study astronomy and both the history and the future of our planet.
THE JAMES WEBB SPACE TELESCOPE
The James Webb Space Telescope could just well become one of the most important tools in our arsenal and help us understand our universe that little bit better. The successful Christmas Day launch is the start of a whole new adventure, and as the spacecraft continues its one-million-mile journey away from Earth, it’ll unfold and reshape to reach its full potential and configuration. The truth is, there are dozens of steps and milestones that the technology will need to pass, and indeed moments where things could go wrong, but thanks to truly incredibly engineering power and of course some luck, we’re hopeful of a fruitful mission.
So what exactly is the JWST, and why should we be so excited? As the name would suggest, it’s a space telescope developed by NASA with collaborations with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and it features a gold-plated mirror that stretches 21-feet, allowing it to gather infrared light from galaxies far, far away. It’s thought that it will be able to see distant objects and clusters, seeing them as they were more than 13.6 billion years ago after the Universe came into being.
The telescope could, in theory, offer concrete evidence of the Big Bang and help to work out just how our world was created, but it will also observe every object it comes into contact with, from black holes and galaxies to supernovae and - perhaps - alien lifeforms. There is, of course, the possibility that it will see things that NASA didn’t expect to see along the way. Speaking to journalists, Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA, said that he expects to find “surprises” that he can “only dream of right now,” and the possibilities and ramifications for the world could be major. What lies ahead is unknown.
The JWST should be seen as a natural successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has orbited the Earth since 1990. However, the Hubble Space Telescope’s mirror is just 8 feet, and the new observatory could be between ten and 100 times more sensitive and pick up far more distant and faint objects that have, until now, been ‘invisible’. NASA has been keen to stress just how important and capable the JWST could be - it says that the telescope could pick up infrared light emitted from a bumblebee located at the distance of the moon.
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