Discovering the Hidden Universe

     NASA, the European Space Agency, and the Canadian Space Agency launched the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana on Christmas Day.

     The JWST reached its destination on Jan. 24, which is approximately 1.5 million kilometers from Earth. This destination has been named the Lagrange 2 point.

    According to the Webb Space Telescope’s website, “Webb will build on the legacy of previous space-based telescopes to push the boundaries of human knowledge even further, to the formation of the first galaxies and the horizons of other worlds.”

     The Space Agencies said that the infrared technology “will reveal that hidden universe. This hidden universe includes ‘stars shrouded in clouds of dust, water in the atmospheres of other words, and the first light from the earliest galaxies ever formed.’” Infrared light can be confusing, especially because we cannot see it with our own eyes.

     “Infrared light has a longer wavelength and can pass through objects in space that visible light is blocked by, such as gas and dust,” representatives of the Royal Museum in Greenwich in the United Kingdom said, “This is why images taken using telescopes which detect infrared frequencies can pick out objects beyond these clouds and appear clearer than those taken using other telescopes.”

     The JWST will bring us closer to searching for life beyond Earth. The $10 billion telescope will look for the formation of the universe’s first galaxies.

     The Webb telescope can see back in time. NASA says that as the universe expanded, the wavelengths of light stretched beyond visible red light to infrared light, and with its infrared technology, the Webb will be able to see earlier parts of the universe. NASA calls this idea the cosmological redshift.

     The JWST is named after James Webb, a former NASA administrator who oversaw the beginning of the Apollo program, which ultimately led to the first man on the moon, along with several other notable discoveries.

     Many wonder how this telescope differs from the Hubble Space Telescope, which was launched in the 1990s and has made numerous discoveries, one of which is the discovery of black holes. It is important to note that the JWST is not replacing the Hubble. It will provide access to a part of the light spectrum that the Hubble never has. In short, with its newer, innovative technology, the JWST is expanding on the discoveries of the Hubble.

     The Webb is seven times more sensitive than the Hubble, and three times the size.

     The Hubble can only see visible and ultraviolet light and orbits around the earth at an altitude of 570 kilometers, whereas the JWST will orbit1 million miles above the Earth. The JWST will sit at the Lagrange 2 point, which is its current location.

     One setback of the JWST is that because it is so far away—farther than any human has ever travelled in space—an astronaut will be unable to fix it should something go wrong.

     The largest telescope in the world, the JWST saw its first star on February 11. This star is called the HD 84406 and is seen through each of the telescope’s 18 mirror segments. The star image shows the star 18 times, and scientists are actively working to align the mirrors to produce a single image of the star instead of 18 separate ones. This is a pivotal moment for the telescope, and the mission team is ecstatic and optimistic about its future discoveries.

     “After all these years, to actually see data when we’re in zero gravity in space, it is emotional,” Lee Feinberg, the Webb optical telescope element manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland told on Feb.11.

     “We’re one step closer to uncovering the mysteries of the universe,” Bill Nelson, the administrator of NASA, said in a statement to “New York Times.” “And I can’t wait to see Webb’s first new views of the universe this summer!”

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