After temporarily being placed on the chopping block by the United States Congress in 2011, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, successor to the Hubble Space Telescope, has secured enough funding for completion and launch sometime in 2018.
With four primary objectives, the impact of the JWST will be nothing less than spectacular. Using the JWST, scientists will be able to search for light “from the first stars and galaxies, study the formation and evolution of galaxies, understand the formation of stars and planetary systems, and study the origins of life.”
Three key features make the James Webb Space Telescope far superior than its Hubble predecessor. First, the JWST will be sent much farther out into orbit than the Hubble Space Telescope. In fact, the JWST will not orbit Earth, but instead reside in a region known as the “L2”, located approximately 930,000 miles from Earth.
The “L2” stands for the second Lagrange Point, which exists in an area located between the Earth and the Sun and whose balance in gravitational force allows objects to remain in a relatively fixed position.
Second, the JWST will be able to observe in the infrared, allowing the Webb to explore deeper areas of the universe. Infrared is also important because it allows scientists to determine whether a planet has an atmosphere, and if the atmosphere observed is able to support life.
Third, the wavelength of light the JWST can observe has been greatly expanded. While the Hubble can detect wavelengths of light measuring 0.8 to 2.6 micrometers, the James Webb can detect wavelengths of light that range from 0.6 to 28 micrometers. Put simply, the JWST can observe objects the Hubble Space Telescope is incapable of seeing, opening a whole new spectra of objects for observation and study.
The JWST is key to the continued exploration of space, and is a crucial component to advancing scientific exploration and study. In only four short years, humankind will be privy to all sorts of wonders and scientific discoveries.