What is the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), and what can it do? The idea for this telescope was raised in 1989-even before the Hubble Space Telescope was launched. But what even is a space telescope? Space telescopes are used to observe astronomical objects. The JWST specifically is a space telescope designed for infrared astronomy. This means that
the JWST monitors and analyzes light from the universe in the infrared (radiation given off from warm objects) range. This makes the JWST different from its predecessor, Hubble. While Hubble did have some infrared capabilities, it primarily sees ultraviolet and optical wavelengths. With both of them seeing in a wide range of wavelengths, they are a formidable duo. But though the Hubble has been a trusty space telescope, JWST is still extremely advanced compared to Hubble (almost 100x).
Going back to the JWST, it uses a tall primary mirror to collect light, which then reflects to a smaller mirror, then redirects to the two main cameras onboard. JWST can look 13.6 billion light years distant. The longer wavelengths enable JWST to look further back in time to see the first galaxies that formed in the early universe and to peer inside dust clouds where stars and planetary systems are forming today.
Launching in 2021, it is currently orbiting the Sun about a million miles from Earth. The JWST has four main scientific goals: to study the first stars and galaxies to form in the universe, to understand the evolution of galaxies over time, to study the formation of stars and planetary systems, and to search for exoplanets that could potentially support life.
The JWST has already made some amazing discoveries, including the deepest infrared image of the distant universe ever taken, the first images of exoplanets outside of our solar system, and the first images of protoplanetary disks, which are the birthplace of stars and planets. The JWST is still in its early stages of operation, but it is already making groundbreaking discoveries. The telescope is expected to revolutionize our understanding of the universe and our place in it.
The JWST is a truly remarkable telescope, and it is just beginning to reveal its secrets. What will it do next? No idea, but it’s sure to be great!
“Webb Image Release- Webb Space Telescope GSFC/NASA.” Webb Image Release- Webb Space Telescope GSFC/NASA, https://webb.nasa.gov/. Accessed 11 Aug. 2023.
Webb Telescope, https://webbtelescope.org/home. Accessed 11 Aug. 2023.