The first flurry of images from the James Webb Space Telescope have given the world a glimpse of the birth of the universe. The telescope is a new era in space observation. The project has taken decades to go from idea to space observatory, overcome years of delays, and cost billions of dollars, and will transform how we see the universe.
What is the James Webb Space Telescope?
The James Webb Space Telescope is the world’s largest and most powerful space-based optical telescope. Whereas its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope circled the Earth, the James Webb Space Telescope orbits the sun. Its mission is to conduct infrared astronomy and it will enable scientists to view the world as it was 200 million years after the Big Bang. In doing that, it will take pictures of some of our universe’s first galaxies. In addition, it will observe objects in our solar systems beyond Mars, see through dust clouds to see any stars and planets forming inside them, and hunt for signs of life on other planets.
Webb’s enhanced infrared resolution and sensitivity gives it a power to see further, and more clearly, than Hubble was able to. Researchers believe that Webb will allow them to probe a number of astronomical and cosmological problems, such as observing the first stars, the formation of the first galaxies, and the detailed atmospheric characterization of potentially habitable exoplanets.
NASA led Webb’s development along with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). Through its Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) in Maryland, NASA managed the development of the telescope. Webb is operated by the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore on the Homewood Campus of Johns Hopkins University. The prime contractor for the project was Northrop Grumman.
The space observatory was named after James E. Webb, who was the administrator of NASA between 1961 and 1968, when NASA deployed its famous Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.
What Were the Reactions to the Launch of the Telescope?
Reactions to James Webb Space Telescope’s launch show the relief and joy that NASA felt. Launched in the Christmas of 2021, Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science missions, said, "It's truly Christmas with all the presents and everything and we have a space mission”. Dr John Mather, Nasa’s senior project scientist on the mission, said, “I am so thrilled and so relieved,” said “This was so hard and it took so long. It’s impossible to convey how hard it really was … but we did it.”
What Has the Telescope Achieved So Far?
The James Webb Space Telescope has already released a flurry of images of unprecedented quality and depth, peering billions of light years away, into our universe’s most mysterious stars and planets. The space observatory, first images, published from its Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, and they have been met with roars of approval across the world.
The images have been shared around the world, on social media and on mainstream media. The space observatory has given us some of the most beautiful pictures of the universe that we have ever seen, and certainly the best quality photos we have ever had. They have given us an insight into the universe, a glimpse of the unknown. We have witnessed the birth and death of stars and planets, and black holes sucking in cosmic material.
The first images are remarkable not simply for what they show, but also for what they suggest is possible. The James Webb Space Telescope is different: it’s not showing us pictures of space objects as they are now, rather, we are receiving images of space objects that may not have existed by the time earth was formed.
Although we have had decades of space observation, we still do not know a lot about the universe. We have only a very rudimentary idea of how the universe was formed.
Whereas Hubb defined how we saw the universe for three decades, Webb promises to define how we see what the universe looked like, and how it came into being, for decades to come.
For millennia, humanity has battled with key questions about the origins of the universe, and whether there is life on other planets. We have observed some signs of the possibility of life, and if this leads to findings that there is other life, that will be an incredible discovery.
If, however, we are alone in this university, our response can only be one of awe. That we exist alone in this universe will surely be a miracle.
Webb will allow us to answer these crucial questions and in so doing, its results will, regardless of the answer, be revolutionary. Webb makes it possible for us to ask these questions in ways that were just impossible in the past. That suggests that scientists will shift a large degree of their focus to these questions, given the wealth of evidence that is likely to arise from Webb.
Nelson said that “We are going to be able to answer questions that we don’t even know what the questions are yet.”
Webb is the defining scientific instrument of our age, and signals an enormous shift in the direction of science.