All About Space

The James Webb Space Telescope


Ever since NASA launched the Orbiting Astronomic­al Observator­y 2 spacecraft in December 1968, the scientific world has gazed out into the depths of the universe through many a generation of space telescope. For decades, two observator­ies have provided the most prolific and in-depth imagery of space: the Hubble and Spitzer space telescopes.

Since its launch in 1990, the Hubble Space Telescope has become an integral part of

NASA’s – and, by extension, the wider scientific community’s – understand­ing of the cosmos, and in conjunctio­n with the infrared capabiliti­es of Spitzer, launched in 2003, our views of the starladen skies around us have changed forever.

But like any great pioneer or innovator, the older telescopes must eventually step aside to make way for a new wave of scientific developmen­ts. And it’s in the James Webb

Space Telescope – named after James E. Webb, the second administra­tor of NASA, who helped redefine the vision of the early Space Race – that the American space agency is placing its hopes and dreams. With its 6.5-metre (21.3-foot) diameter segmented mirror, the new primary telescope will provide a whole new level of clarity to spacecaptu­red imagery.

The James Webb Space Telescope, sometimes referred to as JWST or simply Webb, began life in the wake of Hubble’s journey to scientific immortalit­y. Four years after its launch, Hubble was proving a resounding success, so NASA began to ponder the next step for space observatio­n.

What shape would they take in the coming decades as Hubble orbited towards retirement?

In 1996, a NASA committee convened to discuss that very subject, and it soon became apparent that certain capabiliti­es that Hubble didn’t have – such as improved infrared vision – would be vital if the next generation of telescopes were to outshine the already considerab­ly bright Hubble.

Not only that, it would have a mirror large enough to provide greater light sensitivit­y and the power to see further than any other telescope before it. The teams behind this early form of the JWST wanted to do the seemingly impossible – they wanted to glimpse the very first light in the universe. NASA certainly had the dream. It then needed a plan to make it a reality.

Later that year, three teams of engineers and scientists came together to etch out a plan. A mirror 4.5 metres (14.8 feet) in diameter was conceived as an ideal, if ambitious, size for the segmented mirror, and the newly dubbed Next

 ??  ?? The JWST’s hexagonal mirrors form one big structure
The JWST’s hexagonal mirrors form one big structure
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