NASA’s Giant New James Webb Space Telescope Will Study The Birth Of Planets, Stars, Galaxies

Engineers and technicians assemble the James Webb Space Telescope

NASA announced Wednesday that development of its giant new James Webb Space Telescope is moving forward and that the telescope is ready for testing and should launch in 2018, according to an article from Geek Wire.

“The primary mirror of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope consisting of 18 hexagonal mirrors looks like a giant puzzle piece standing in the massive clean room of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland,” reads a post on the NASA website. “Appropriately, combined with the rest of the observatory, the mirrors will help piece together puzzles scientists have been trying to solve throughout the cosmos.”

The James Webb Space Telescope is meant to be the primary successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. It is designed to capture images of the first galaxies formed after the Big Bang occurred over 13.5 billion years ago and provide “unprecedented” data about distant plants, Geek Wire reports.

NASA has big hopes, indeed, for the telescope, which will be the largest ever launched into space.

“Webb’s primary mirror will collect light for the observatory in the scientific quest to better understand our solar system and beyond. Using these mirrors and Webb’s infrared vision scientists will peer back over 13.5 billion years to see the first stars and galaxies forming out of the darkness of the early universe. Unprecedented infrared sensitivity will help astronomers to compare the faintest, earliest galaxies to today’s grand spirals and ellipticals, helping us to understand how galaxies assemble over billions of years. Webb will see behind cosmic dust clouds to see where stars and planetary systems are being born. It will also help reveal information about atmospheres of planets outside our solar system, and perhaps even find signs of the building blocks of life elsewhere in the universe.”

According to a promotional video released by NASA (watch below), the James Webb Space Telescope will be the “next premiere” space telescope and will significantly expand upon the discoveries made by the Hubble Space Telescope. It is in fact 100 times more powerful than the Hubble.

The telescope is three stories high and roughly the size of a tennis court. It is so big it will have to be folded up to fit inside a rocket, the video explains.

The telescope comes with a $8.8 billion price tag, according to Geek Week. One reason for that hefty price tag may be that the Webb’s reflective mirrors are coated with a thin layer of gold to optimize infrared reflectivity, according to the promotional video.

The James Webb Space Telescope will be launched from French Guiana. The proximity to the equator, and the Earth’s faster rotation there, will give the rocket carrying the large telescope extra thrust during takeoff.

The Webb will travel nearly 1 million miles away from the Earth and settle into an orbit around the Sun, but will remain far enough away from the star so that it can operate at a safe temperature of below 390 degrees Fahrenheit.

The James Webb Space Telescope’s infrared sensors are so sensitive that they must actively block out light from the Sun, the Earth, and even the moon to properly function. They are protected by a five-layer sun shield that is equivalent to a sunblock of SPF 1 million, according to the video.

The telescope is named for NASA’s second administrator, James Webb, and is a collaborative project between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency. Scientists from “all over the world” will have access to the telescope, the NASA video states.

With such a major and groundbreaking project nearing completion, NASA will surely be posting more updates on the progress of the James Webb Space Telescope. Visit NASA.gov for more information.

[Featured Image by Alex Wong/Getty Images]