Newsweek

A VIEW OF THE EARLY UNIVERSE

- — F.G.

By midsummer, if all goes well, the James Webb Telescope will be peering backward in time to the first few hundred million years of the universe and sending back images of the first stars and galaxies forming from the maelstrom of the Big Bang.

The Webb is the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been delivering spectacula­r images since 1993. Hubble was a huge improvemen­t over ground-based telescopes because its position in low-earth orbit put it above the image-distorting atmosphere. Webb goes a step further: It will sit a million miles away in a “Lagrange” point, gravitatio­nally suspended between the Earth and the sun, protected from the sun’s heat by a tarp that will (fingers crossed) unfurl to the size of a tennis court.

Being so far from Earth means that the Webb’s highly sensitive equipment can be kept cool enough to pick up faint signals from the early universe. Whereas Hubble looked mainly at light in the visible range (as well as some infrared and ultraviole­t), the sensors on the Webb are tuned to lower-frequency “red-shifted” light. That is crucial to the telescope’s mission: Since distant objects in the expanding universe are moving away from us faster than those close at hand, the frequency of their light is shifted toward the red end of the spectrum, in the same way the pitch of a train whistle gets lower as it passes by.

The $10 billion Webb, scheduled to launch from French Guiana in December, is a high-risk project. If something goes awry after launch, astronauts won’t be able to effect repairs, as they did in 1993 when the Hubble’s mirror turned out to be flawed. But if Webb succeeds, it will enhance our understand­ing of the universe’s beginnings 14 billion years ago.

The next generation of cellular network is finally slated to arrive next year. In 2022, AT&T, Verizon and T-mobile are rolling out 5G—short for fifth generation mobile network—broadly across the U.S. While 4G gave us smartphone­s and apps, 5G will completely reshape how we use our devices. Expect faster connection speeds, greater bandwidth and less lag, which will lead to things like connected vehicles and traffic systems, increased e-health care and advanced cloud gaming. You’ll be able to download a full movie to your phone in seconds, and augmented reality, enabled by 5G, will become ubiquitous. Baseball fans will be able use their phones to find the velocity of a pitch. Factory managers can integrate robot workers alongside humans; while already possible with 4G, 5G enables these robots to be increasing­ly coordinate­d, anticipati­ng their human coworkers’ movements. Expectatio­ns are high, with some experts predicting 5G could usher in the next industrial revolution.

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