NASA are currently constructing the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) which to date has taken 20 years and $8 billion dollars to build. Scheduled for launch in 2019, it’s set to make some of the biggest discoveries in space history so far. To see the very first galaxies ever formed in our Universe.
Currently, the most distant galaxies we have been able to image are approximately 400-800 Million Years old, according to NASA, and were discovered using the Hubble telescope. This is the image taken by Hubble called, ‘The Hubble Ultra Deep Field’.
Why can’t Hubble see further?
Hubble is an optical and near infrared telescope so it can only see certain wavelengths. NASA believe the light from the earliest galaxies in the Universe has been stretched to such an extent, the light can only be seen in the deep infrared spectrum which hubble is unable to detect.
The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST)
The JWSP is the biggest telescope to ever be launched into space. Hubble stands at 2.4 meters where as JWSP is so big it doesn't even fit into a rocket, standing at a staggering 6.5 meters. In order for NASA to even launch this beast into space, they will need to fold the telescope up, it will take two weeks for it to fully “deploy” when in space.
The main mirror is made of 18 gold plated beryllium mirrors with actuators underneath that should enable it to form a perfectly curved surface.
Using deep infrared, this giant will be able to see further back in time than any other telescope before it giving us an extremely detailed view of the earliest known points in the universe.
The telescope will be operating at temperatures below -230°F and will need to be free of interference. NASA will be sending the JWST into an area called L2 which is over One Million Miles away from Earth. This will also prevent Earth, the Sun and the Moon from interfering with its transmissions, say NASA.
Maggie Masetti (NASA Astrophysics Outreach Specialist) -
“The James Webb Space Telescope needs to be really cold and that’s why we have this tennis court sized sunshield that protects the telescope mirrors and the instruments from the light and heat of the Earth, Sun & moon.
It’s made of a material called ‘captain’, it has incredible thermal properties, you could boil water on the hot side of the spacecraft and freeze nitrogen on the other”
NASA are trying to understand why galaxies form the way they do, specifically the earliest known galaxies. These galaxies form into a type of puffed ball shape as opposed to the spiral galaxies we’re more familiar with.
JWSP will also be able to provide us with a more detailed analysis of the chemical makeup of exoplanets by detecting their chemical composition using the transit technique.
Hannah Wakeford (NASA Astrophysicist) -
“The JWSP is the largest that has ever been built and launched into space and that’s really exciting, it’s much larger than Hubble is and it operates at a different wavelength.
It operates in the infrared which means we can look at different things in the universe and see different molecules in the atmospheres of planets”
What will we see with the JWST?
NASA - “We are going to be looking at things we've never seen before and looking at things we have seen before in all new ways.”
How far back will the JWST be able to see?
NASA - “JWST will be able to see what the universe looked like around a quarter of a billion years (possibly back to 100 million years) after the Big Bang, when the first stars and galaxies started to form.”
We could potentially see the beginning of time! The JWSP is set to launch in Spring of 2019 on an ESA Ariane 5 Rocket. Don't expect results straight away though, NASA say it will take up to 6 months for the telescope to be fully optimized & operational once in space. It also has to travel over One Million Miles!
Results well worth waiting for though.
NASA & Northrop Grumman: James Webb Space Telescope Launch and Deployment